A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that House of Secrets is co-written by Chris Columbus -- who directed the first two Harry Potter movies (J. K. Rowling gives it a plug on the front cover) and wrote scripts for the The Goonies and Gremlins -- and YA author Ned Vizzini (The Other Normals). With lots of action-violence featuring kids battling pirates, mercenaries, cursed skeletons, and supernatural forces, it feels a bit like Gremlins and The Goonies. But House of Secrets can get gory, too, with talk of live autopsies performed by the pirate captain, a couple of fatal stabbings, kids removing an arrow and stitching up the wound themselves, and an eyeball pierced by an arrow and then plucked out intact. The three Walker siblings at the center of the story are threatened by death constantly, and their loyalty to one another is tested; luckily, they always come together in a crisis. Also expect some mild swearing ("bloody," "damn," "bugger off," and "hell" used sparingly), a couple of crushes, and some product placement, including the PSP game Red Dead Redemption that Brendan is always playing (and that Common Sense Media does not recommend for kids).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
The day Cordelia, Brendan, and Eleanor Walker visit Kristoff House with their parents, they know there has to be something wrong with it. Could it be the fishy price? No way a mansion on the Pacific could cost so little. Or could it be the creepy one-handed, bald witch that threatens Brendan in the backyard? Hmm ... On move-in day it's all movie night fun and pizza until the witch shows up and throws down a curse. And faster than you can say Wizard of Oz, the house lands in another world, which is a mashup of fantasy novels written by the home's namesake, Denver Kristoff. The witch will keep the Walkers there until they bring her The Book of Doom and Desire, an occult tome that will appear only to the sibling who does something impulsive and selfish. As the Walkers decide that they won't help the witch get what she wants, they're tested. They think having no cell phone reception and flushing toilets is bad -- until the mercenaries arrive. And the colossus. And the pirates. And sword-wielding skeletons ...
Is it any good?
Co-author Chris Columbus has an eye for a mainstream hit. Say it together now: "Goonies never say die!" It's as if for HOUSE OF SECRETS, he found a Top 10 list of what gives kids the willies, threw everything in a blender, then folded in three bickering sibs with lots of heart. There's an evil fantasy world with no escape, a witch with a curse, occult rituals, pirates, mercenaries, giants, sharks, fighting skeletons, secret passageways, and things coming back from the dead. Check, check, check. There's something to spook every tween on the next camping trip.
With a s'more in hand is probably the best way to enjoy House of Secrets. Readers pondering the story too long will have some questions about the slapped-together fantasy elements (why does the attic have that special power?) and may even wonder why the Walker family gets cursed in the first place. (Great-Great-Grandpa Walker never had the evil book.) Seems as if Columbus is after his next big kid entertainment, not high fantasy, and he's got it right here.
Talk to your kids about ...
What drew you to House of Secrets? Did you know anything about the co-author Chris Columbus before you picked it up? If so, does it remind you of any of his movies?
How did the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 really occur? Where can you find out more?
There's some scary stuff in here: cursed skeletons, murderous witches, mercenaries, bloodthirsty pirates ... Is there anything you found too scary to read alone? What do you do when a book gets too scary for you?
- Authors: Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini
- Illustrator: Greg Call
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Pirates
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzer + Bray
- Publication date: April 23, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 496
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.