Frank’s mum is away, her cat is missing, and her father is embarrassing in the way that only preteens’ parents can be. While she is riding her bike around to put up posters of her cat, the school bullies begin harassing her, a situation made even more painful through familiarity. Surprisingly, Frank is rescued from her tormentors by Nick Underbridge, but rather than being grateful, Frank is now afraid that other kids will think that she is friends with huge, flat-faced Nick, the class misfit.
While reluctantly having a snack at Nick’s house, Frank begins to hear beautiful, unearthly music that fills her soul with such joy that she feels compelled to find its source. When Nick leaves the room, Frank finds a hidden door, and since she is convinced that the music is coming from the other side, she opens it and descends the stairs to the basement. At the bottom, she can see the usual stacks of boxes and unused furniture, but she can also see, in the same place and at the same time, something— and perhaps someone– else.
As one transgression will lead to another, Frank is now in the position of having to keep a secret she should never have known, and for a girl who is continuously bullied, there is plenty of pressure to betray someone she never wanted as a friend, anyway. Frank has to face the darkness of her own heart in the midst of unbelievable and terrifying new discoveries.
This British import is a brilliantly told middle-grade story with just the right level of creepiness for kids who like a frisson of fear, but are not ready for the likes of Stephen King. Throughout the book, Levi Pinfold’s black and gray illustrations create a dark and foreboding atmosphere that carries the mood forward perfectly. Behind the mind-bending thrills, however, is a story about kids trying to navigate the end of childhood. Parents can be wonderful, distracted, or absent. Other kids can be mean, but sometimes we grieve when the cruelty in our own hearts is revealed. Maturing into the human beings we should be is a tough process, but Frank and Nick give us hope.
I could not put this book down, and I highly recommend it to anyone ten and up.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which will be published on July 4, 2017. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer. Cover shown may be the British edition.