The House in Poplar Wood

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The House in Poplar Wood Book Poster Image
Teens bond, match wits with Death in riveting tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is a fantasy book, but it's a good entry into a long literary tradition in which Death is a character and interesting cosmologies are explored.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of thinking for yourself, finding the truth, being guided by it. Also joy of finding real friends after lifetime of isolation, having courage to do the right thing and change your life for the better.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Twin brothers Lee and Felix share a strong bond and determination to free themselves, their parents from bondage. Gretchen questions everything, especially foundations of her privileged life, is determined to figure out what the right thing is and do it, in the process driving many adults and a few kids crazy. The three form a strong friendship. The twins' parents are loving, kind, completely enslaved to the Shades they serve.

Violence

Fundamental premise of being Death's apprentices, assisting Death as he goes about soul-taking business, is creepy, upsetting, intriguing. One of Memory's jobs is to remove memories from minds of people who find them too painful. Untimely death of teen sets many events in motion, and some think she was murdered. A 16-year-old's bullying ways may have something to do with this. Teen character sustains life-threatening injuries.

Sex

Growing attraction and ultimately a kiss between two 13-year-olds. A teen dismisses the possibility that a girl "has the hots" for him. In the past, fateful life changes ensue when two teens fall in love and the girl becomes pregnant with twins.

Language

Occasional "God," as swear word.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention that the town bully was often suspended from school for smoking in his younger days.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The House in Poplar Wood is a riveting tale of 13-year-olds growing up in a Tennessee village ruled by the Shades -- Passion, Memory, and Death -- and their attempts to free themselves and their families. Much of the trouble (and two twins' existence) dates from a time when two teens who never should have met fell in love and the girl became pregnant. A teen's violent death causes suspicion and sets assorted events in motion. Protagonists Lee, Felix, and Gretchen are strong individuals struggling with family legacies they want to escape, as well as the daily hassles of middle school. There are strong messages of friendship, family, courage, taking care of each other, and doing the right thing even when you have to figure out for yourself what that is.

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What's the story?

THE HOUSE IN POPLAR WOOD sits on the outskirts of Boone Ridge, Tennessee, which like all other villages in the region is ruled by the Shades: Passion, Memory, and Death, and the families whose legacy it is to serve them and/or keep them in line. It's a house divided; on one side 13-year-old Lee Vickery lives with his mom, apprentice to the Shade Memory, while on the other side of the wall live his twin, Felix, and their dad, who serve Death. (Lee has an otherwise deaf ear, which hears only what Memory is saying; Felix has a blind eye that keeps track of what Death is up to.) Lee in particular is determined to free the twins from their bond to the Shades so they can have a real life, but previous attempts haven't gone well. Meanwhile, across town, Gretchen Whipple, the mayor's daughter, is starting to ask a lot of questions following the untimely death of a local teen -- including why she's not supposed to be friends with Lee and Felix, and delving into some family secrets of her own.

Is it any good?

K.E. Ormsbee delivers a fresh, imaginative, creepy, and cheer-worthy tale of three teens trying to break family curses, escape dark forces, and do the right thing for themselves and their loved ones. The House in Poplar Wood conjures up a seemingly ordinary town where people have long been ruled by Passion, Memory, and Death, in which there's a buried secret just about everywhere you look. Small illustrations by The Brothers Hilts at the start of each chapter help bring the distinctive protagonists Lee, Felix, and Gretchen to life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories where Death is a character. How does The House in Poplar Wood compare with some of the others you know? Why do you think this idea is so popular among storytellers?

  • Sometimes it's nice to have a family business and know there's a place for you in it -- but sometimes you just want something else. Do you think you'd like to do the same kind of work as your parents, or do you want to do something different?

  • If you thought your family was cursed, what would you do about it?

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