The Poe Estate

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Poe Estate Book Poster Image
Ghosts, romance, otherworldly connections in inventive tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

As in the previous installments in this series, The Poe Estate plunges readers into a sea of allusions to authors and works within a particular genre -- in this case, 19th-century creepy tales. Kids who are comfortable with the likes of Poe and Lovecraft will be in heaven; others may be so intrigued by some of the references that they seek out works too scary for them. Along the way, there's a lot of discussion and banter about classifying items in a museum, as well as figuring out what something is and what era it came from, based on sparse but tantalizing clues. Sukie's parents are antique dealers; we get an interesting window into that world and how every object has a story.

Positive Messages

Despite the creepiness and ghostly villainy, The Poe Estate has plenty of positive messages about love and family bonds, following your heart and instincts and dealing gracefully with life's hardships. Readers who prefer to draw their own conclusions rather than getting thinly veiled improving lectures from the author -- here, on the subject of "letting go" of things you've "outgrown" -- may grow a bit weary of belabored themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Except for Sukie herself, who's dealing with a number of challenges and trying to do the right thing, most of the other characters are engaging (or creepy) but pretty one-dimensional. Sukie's parents are kind and loving while dealing with hard times; her cousin and other kind adults offer help and support, and classmate Cole proves a loyal companion on a quest.

Violence

The story features numerous ghosts, many of whom were the victims of foul play or treachery. The murder victims from the past include a small child. References and tributes to lurid gothic fiction of the 19th century are plentiful: A character wrongly believes her husband is dead when the villain presents her with her husband's severed hand. Sukie's late sister Kitty -- who herself grows more violent as the story progresses and ultimately tries to kill a teen character -- is the latest victim of a family curse that's been killing off the clan's children for centuries, and there's a sad deathbed scene early on.

Sex

A middle school-age character receives two brief, intense kisses, one from a ghost and one from a boy. A number of the ghosts were married to each other during their lives, some more happily than others, and some are still trying to find their lost loves; a budding romance between two tweens may help their restless spirit ancestors find peace.

Language
Consumerism

Sukie's parents are antique dealers, and the family's so poor she doesn't have a cell phone, which shocks her classmates.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's plenty of heavy stuff mixed with an innocent (if, perhaps, preordained) tween romance and warm family values in The Poe Estate, in which author Polly Shulman returns to the New-York [sic] Circulating Material Repository (featured in The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest) for a new standalone adventure. This time, ghosts (some friendly, some not), horror, and the macabre take center stage, with real-life items from the not necessarily kid-friendly fiction of Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and H. P. Lovecraft, among others. Characters have various magical powers, and the intersection of fiction and reality is crucial to the plot -- not only real-life objects that appear in our world from the fictional one but fictional characters who somehow manage to have real-life descendants.

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What's the story?

Sukie (rhymes with "cookie") has a lot to deal with. For one thing, she's just started middle school, where a bunch of her classmates get a big kick out of calling her "Sucky." She and her parents are still reeling from the death, about two years earlier, of her older sister, Kitty -- the latest victim of a blood disease that's killed at least one member of her mom's family in each generation since the 1700s. Since the tragedy, her parents have found little work, and they've been forced to move into the house of Cousin Hepzibah, who's been sharing the family home with quite a few restless spirits; meanwhile, Kitty's ghost hovers protectively over her little sister. After a number of odd objects seem to find her, and some creepy characters seem to covet them, Sukie connects with the New-York Circulating Material Repository, where the boundaries between fiction and reality blur -- and where a lot of the stories and objects seem to involve the lurid lives and deaths of her ancestors.

Is it any good?

Ghosts, family curses, pirate treasure, and mean middle school classmates keep the pages turning in Polly Shulman's return trip to the blurry borderline between the real and made-up worlds. THE POE ESTATE revels in the dark and creepy works of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and more, with murders, treachery, and pervasive gloom setting the stage for a bereaved family. There's romance, a big dose of magic, and numerous references to actual 19th-century horror fiction, much of it not kid-friendly. It won't be for everyone, but it's a fun read for budding fans of the dark side and gothic romance.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ghost stories and why they've always been such crowd-pleasers. Do you prefer the scary stories, the funny ones, or something else?

  • If it were true that book characters had real-life descendants in our world, which fictional characters do you think might be in your family tree?

  • Have you read the other books about the New-York Circulating Material Repository? How does this one compare?

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