Saturday, October 4, 2008

A secret in the attic

Twelve-year-old Henry goes to live with his aunt, uncle and three cousins after his parents are kidnapped while traveling in South America. Henry's parents are ridiculously overprotective, to the point of not allowing Henry to join in on many normal childhood activities, so Henry is delighted when he gets to ride in the back of his Uncle's pickup truck on the way back from the train station.

He is given a room up in the attic, a small space that has been partitioned off from the rest of the larger room, and his three cousins, all girls, seem fairly welcoming, as do the neighborhood boys, who invite Henry to join in on their baseball games. One day he notices something odd about the wall in his attic room: the plaster is cracking, and beneath the plaster there are faint outlines. He chips the plaster away with his new pocket knife (a gift from his uncle, something his parents never would have permitted him to own), and discovers dozens of cupboards of all shapes and sizes hidden beneath. He can peek through the cupboards, but he can't fit through. He sees all kinds of strange things in each one - a post office, a beautiful meadow, something dark and foreboding...

Henry and his eldest cousin, Henrietta, can't help but explore the mystery and wonder the cupboards have to offer. There is much they don't know - how to open each one, where they lead - and how to get to the tantalizing places they see. Their exploration sets loose something dark and dangerous that threatens Henry and his family, and he and Henrietta must find a way to set things right before it's too late.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and it was an interesting tale with lots of twists and turns. The narrative did seem to lack focus in certain sections, though, adding extraneous details and scenes that, in the end, did not contribute much to the book as a whole. The characters never reached that place in my mind in which they formed as wholly believable people - they seemed to behave in a way that suited the author's intentions rather than the characters' personalities. For example (minor spoiler here), Henry's uncle tells him that Henry's parents are not, in fact, his real parents. Henry basically shrugs and moves on with things - never once asking - or wondering - who his real parents are...until it's convenient to the narrative. There were several occasions like this that threw me out of the story because it suddenly wasn't believable.

This appears to be the first in a series, which is good because there are so very many questions that are never answered in this book, particularly the origin of the cupboards. Also, almost all of the action centered around the house in Kansas, and I for one was eager to see more of what lay in the lands through the cupboard doors. Maybe subsequent books will explore these mysterious possibilities. I hope so!

One Hundred Cupboards by N.D. Wilson; narrated by Russell Horton (Listening Library, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Kiss the Book


  1. I hope the series is fleshed out more than this one. I've heard the same complaint from a few other people, but I've also heard that the book is great overall. I've had it on my wishlist for ages! One of these days I'll get to it!

  2. This sounds interesting, is it in the children's section or teen's section?

  3. I'll say that's not believable! No matter what kind of home you grew up in, you're going to be at least curious if not in anguish if someone told you that your parents aren't yours! Hmm I'm curious about those cupboards now...

  4. Chris - I hope so, too. It is a great concept, and there is a lot of potential here. I'll be interested to hear what you think when you get to it.

    VA Gal - it's in the children's section.

    Ladytink - That's what I thought. And the fact that he wasn't really concerned about his parents' fate was a bit disturbing too. Sure, they're overprotective and they are away traveling much of the time, but still, he barely spares a thought for them during the story. In fact, he kind of hopes they won't be back too soon because he loves staying at his aunt and uncle's so much.

  5. When this came out, I remember it being discussed as an answer to children's/young adult fantasy not being located within the U.S.A. It definitely sounds quite interesting and reminds me of a story I read in my youth about a girl who inherits a doll house (built to look like the house she lives in) and when she looks in through the windows she can see the lives of previous inhabitants. Thanks for reminding me of this one!

  6. That book about the dollhouse sounds intriguing. Have you ever managed to hunt it down and reread it? I remember an elementary school teacher reading us a book about a boy, I think, who goes into a tree through a doorway, and there's a staircase inside. I was sick the following day and never got to hear how it ended, and I've never been able to figure out what that book was!

  7. I echo what Chris said. A lot of the review I've read mentioned the same problem. But it still sounds like a great read.

  8. Nymeth - you are right, and there are a lot of series out there that I've come to love that had slightly bumpy beginnings, so it's good to keep an open mind!


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