House of Secrets

 
Page-turner is the perfect campfire tale but can get gory.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Quick references to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Shakespeare's King Lear, WWI, Galileo, and more. Plus libraries and reading are highly valued by Cordelia, the eldest sister.

Positive messages

There's a clear temptation for the Walker siblings in the form of the Book of Doom and Desire, and they must do something selfish and impulsive to make it appear. This leads to lessons in sticking together in a crisis and resisting the temptation for power and glory.

Positive role models

The Walker siblings bicker like all siblings but come together in crisis and risk their lives for one another. Eleanor, the youngest, has dyslexia and overcomes the obstacles it poses in key moments of the story. Will is a little sexist (Cordelia lays into him about it) but otherwise a good protector for the Walkers. He tries to keep his gun from Brendan, explaining the great responsibility that goes with having a gun.

Violence

The Walker siblings, who lose their parents and think they are gone forever, are in danger for their lives most of the time. They get injured by stabbing with swords, burns, cannonball fire, gunfire (the tip of Brendan's earlobe is shot off), and being tossed about by a murderous witch. They are also threatened with being thrown to hungry sharks, finger amputation, and even vivisection (live autopsy). Gory or bloody scenes involve the removal of an arrow and improvised stitches, an eyeball pierced by an arrow, a couple of fatal stabbings, talk of the pirate captain's penchant for vivisection, and murder with a flaming mace. There's also a plane crash, hands being shot, a grenade thrown, and a chase by murderous cursed skeletons. Occult books with mentions of nasty experiments are found in a secret passage and left behind.

Sex

Cordelia is often teased about her crush on Will. Then Brendan almost kisses a girl and it turns into an awkward hug. Some nonsexual nakedness when skeletons come back to life.

Language

"Bloody," "damn," "bugger off," and "hell" are used sparingly.

Consumerism

A few products get repeat mentions, such as Brendan's PSP and the game Red Dead Redemption and Lunchables. Lots of brand names, show names, and actor names get one or two mentions: Snickers, Buffy, Mick Jagger (they nickname a colossus "Fat Jagger"), Johnny Depp (from Pirates of the Caribbean), Dominoes, The New Adventures of Scooby-Doo, Green Giant, and more.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Will has a flask of whiskey that is used medicinally here. The Walker siblings talk about an uncle who drank a lot so now they don't allow it in their house. Pirates find the wine cellar and drink and party heartily.

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).

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?

QUALITY
 

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

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
Number of pages:496
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle

This review of House of Secrets was written by

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 10 years old August 2, 2013
age 12+
 

Epic Book of Epicness...

Amazing! Cool book, really liked it, as you can see I gave it a 5 star rating! I recommend it, but it is scary at the start..so watch out...Ha..Ha..Ha..(ghostly laugh)
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 13 years old Written byspaceexploration November 11, 2014
age 10+
 

Awesome Book!

This book was a real page turner. I read it when I was 10, but the violence got a little gory. I do not think there is anything to worry about, but this book might freak you out if you are not one for gruesome images. But this book is written very well, and is truly awesome!
Kid, 11 years old August 19, 2014
age 12+
 

House of Secrets review

This is one of those books where the reader wants to dive in and solve the mystery themselves! I think it is a great book because it has lots of funny things in it. It also really shows how siblings act together (squabbling and pretending not to be scared with each other). It is action-packed,adventurous and exciting. However in some ways it might be unsuitable for children under ten (especially when you have a mum like mine) because there is a bit of flirting and sensitive children may find it a little scary.I think it should be rated 10+.

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