|Image Graphic designed by Sandra Lopez|
Fifteen-year-old Matt Mitchell was having the worst summer imaginable. His misery started when his mother died in a senseless car accident. Matt’s grieving father, unable to remain in the family’s seaside cottage, moved Matt and his twin sister as far as possible from the ocean they loved.
But their relocation to the small town of Hawthorne, Indiana only made Matt’s life more difficult. Three bullies at his new high school dedicated themselves to making him miserable. To top it off, Matt heard that the recluse living in the dilapidated Victorian mansion next door was none other than Old Lady Hawthorne, the town’s infamous witch and murderer of wayward husbands.
Then, Old Lady Hawthorne’s niece and her three children moved in next door, and something extraordinary happened. Matt met Gerallt, the strange boy destined to become his best friend. And when Matt learned the Hawthornes’ family secret, it changed his life forever.
The Secrets of Hawthorne House is the story of an unlikely friendship, the clash of two radically different cultures, hidden magic, and a search for the lost Hawthorne treasure.
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It was a drunk driver that crashed into his mother and killed her. It was something that 15-year old Matt has never been able to get over. Now, he, along with his father and twin sister, has moved to Hawthorne, IN, as far away from the ocean as possible.
New house, new town, new people.
The first day of school, Matt meets Sarah, who tells him about Lady Hawthorne next door. She was supposedly a witch who murdered her husband. So then why was she running free if she was a killer?
Eventually, Matt starts doing household chores for Lady Hawthorne and soon befriends one of her relatives. Suddenly, life in a strange town gets even stranger.
Story goes into a brief history of the Hawthorne Haunted House and how it came to be. It was interesting, but lags considerably with endless monologue that seems irrelevant. The Hawthornes certainly have incomprehensible dialogue with their weird accent (it was Southern or Eastern or something,) making it harder to follow and understand them.
Ultimately, the question was: What were the secrets of Hawthorne House? Although the answer wasn’t too clear, the bond and friendship between Matt and Gerallt was admirable.
This strange tale of Wiccan folklore was punctuated by childhood mayhem, dark secrets, and a touch of magic. Of course, judging by the cover, I expected more spookiness, like a haunting impression really, but it just sort of remained stagnant at a mild and mediocre level. It’s a decent read for YA audiences, but I would’ve liked it better had it been shortened and less complicated.
My rating: 3 stars
---Excerpts: The Secrets of Hawthorne House---
Spotting Matt as the only familiar face in the room, Gerallt walked over and sat at the empty desk next to him. It also happened to be the chair directly in front of Clayton Cartwright.
Waiting for the teacher to face the chalkboard and turn his back to the class, Clayton leaned forward, stretched out his arm, and poked a sausage-sized finger into Gerallt’s back. “Hey, new kid,” Clayton whispered. “Where’d you get the Halloween costume? What’re you supposed to be, some kind of Goth druggie?”
Gerallt ignored Clayton. Matt glanced sideways, the memory of his own initial run-in with Clayton still fresh in his mind from the first day of school.
“What’s the matter with you?” Clayton continued, leaning forward to poke Gerallt again. “I’m talking to you. You deaf? Or stoned!”
Gerallt glanced over his shoulder, gave Clayton a look of utter contempt, and then turned back to read what the teacher was writing on the chalkboard.
“Oh, I get it,” Clayton whispered, giving Gerallt a third poke in the back. “You’re one of these Amish kids who don’t believe in fighting. Believe in turning the other cheek, do you? Or maybe you’re just a coward.” He gave Gerallt a shove to the back of the head. “Just wait ‘til after school, Bible boy, and I’ll give you a little something on each cheek.”
This time it was Gerallt who made sure the teacher was still busy at the blackboard with his back to the class. Then he turned and whispered in the same unusual accent as his sister, “My great ahnt warned me about you, Clayton Cartwright. It will take more than the likes of you tah frighten me. And I promise you this. Poke me one more time in the back, and you won’t be poking anyone for a very long time.” Then Gerallt turned his back on Clayton, swiftly slipped his fingertips between the wooden buttons of his shirt and began to whisper something too softly for Matt to hear.
“Is that so, Bible boy?” Clayton replied angrily, just loudly enough for the teacher to hear. Mr. Thompson turned around just in time to see Clayton lean his considerable weight forward to poke Gerallt once more in the back.
Clayton’s finger had barely touched Gerallt’s back when there was a loud crack as the front legs of Clayton’s chair snapped. Suspended motionless for an instant, his entire body pivoted forward on the chair’s remaining legs, and his nose smashed into the back of Gerallt’s chair with a sickening, yet strangely satisfying, crunch. Next, his outstretched index finger, driven by the whole weight of his body and desk, hit the floor with such force that the resulting snap was heard clearly by everyone in the room. This was followed instantly by the crash of Clayton's desktop, body, and books onto the floor followed by an unexpectedly high-pitched scream of pain. After a second of shocked silence, the class erupted as everybody started talking and yelling at once.
By the final week of October, the tall oaks lining Hawthorne Drive had reached the peak of their colors, and the first yellow leaves slowly tumbled down to lie on lawns and sidewalks. All along Hawthorne Drive, the modest one- and two-story houses had been turned into happy Halloween haunts. Throughout the neighborhood, bright orange lights framed windows and doors, and small fluttering ghosts hung from the branches of many of the smaller trees in peoples’ yards. Black plastic spiders sat on the cottony cobwebs that shrouded every bush, while jolly Jack-O-Lanterns stood silent guard at every porch. Front yards had become grave yards, and the occasional inept witch hung where she’d crashed headlong into a tree or the side of a house.
Yet the morning of Halloween had arrived with no change to Hawthorne House, making it appear decidedly underdressed with no sign of Halloween decorations.
“So Gerallt, doesn’t your family celebrate Halloween?” Matt asked as the Hawthorne children joined Tina and him at the bus stop. “You haven’t put up any decorations, and I haven’t heard you mention it all month.”
“Of course we observe Halloween, only we call it Samhain,” Gerallt said, exchanging cautious glances with his sister. Unlike Wiccans, who pronounce the holiday as Sow-in, Gerallt pronounced the Gaelic word meaning the end of summer as Sahm-wan. “It’s just that for us, the holiday doesn’t start until dusk and we always wait until then tah decorate.”
“Tonight is very special tah us,” Gwyneth added solemnly.
“It’s our new year,” Gerallt continued. “We have a feast tah welcome the spirits of those who will be born in the comin’ year and tah celebrate the lives of those who have passed in the previous year. Tonight, we’ll celebrate the life of our fathah and welcome his spirit when he visits us from the Spirit World…”
Before Matt could decide how to respond to Gerallt’s unexpected expectation that his father’s ghost was going to visit him, Gareth said, “Samhain ‘s my favorite holiday. I love trick-or-treatin’ and all the candy. Can I go with you and Gerallt tonight? Please? I promise not tah be a bothah or anything. Please, Matt?”
The sun had just set as Matt, now transformed into a youthful vampire, walked out his front door to join Gerallt and Gareth for their planned evening of house-to-house candy extortion. Rising in the east like a pale pumpkin in the sky, a full moon peeked out from behind wispy translucent clouds. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and Matt drew his cheap black and scarlet cape around him with a flourish before striding out into the gathering darkness.
A thin mist was rising from the dew-drenched grass, forming a low layer of fog that darkened the shadows beneath the row of oaks lining Hawthorne Drive. Matt looked next door at the old Victorian mansion and was amazed by its transformation. Each tall window of the Hawthorne House framed a single colorful candle, burning with flickering flames of yellow, orange, or red. A few candles even burned with the same sickly shade of green that illuminated the bottom of the twin streams of smoke rising from the mansion’s massive stone chimneys. The green glowing smoke bubbling out of the chimney pots rose only a few feet before cascading down the gabled roof to become a low-lying fog. Matt was surprised to see a black shape suddenly swoop through the smoke, only to be followed by another and yet another. Large bats fluttered around the twin chimneys and the three towers, feasting on clouds of ghostly moths seemingly drawn to the pale green smoke. Matt had seen the occasional brown bat before, but never so many and never as big as these.
Only the short attic windows were without candles. Yet, while watching in wonder at the fluttering forms, Matt would have sworn that out of the edge of his vision he had seen a pale figure briefly looking back at him from one of the darkened windows. He looked back at the window, but the ghostly shape had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. It sent a shiver up his spine.
Walking slowly over to the Hawthorne’s gate, Matt admired the fantastic cobwebs that covered their fence, bushes, and even the lower branches of the trees. Not the thick cottony store-bought stuff he’d seen at the neighbor’s houses, they appeared to be real spider webs. Each one was outlined in diminutive droplets of dew and hosted what looked like a large black spider sitting smugly at its center. Matt was impressed; the webs looked expensive, and it must have taken lots of work to drape them so realistically.
The gate creaked mournfully as Matt opened it. Thirteen of the most intricately carved jack-o-lanterns he’d ever seen lined the front walk. Each had a different expression, some friendly and some almost terrifying, and every one worthy of wonder and envy. They were so incredible that Matt thought Gwyneth, her mom, and great aunt must surely have worked all day on them.
The fog was getting thicker. Gazing into the darkness on either side of the twin rows of carved pumpkins, he could just make out fairy rings of large, white toadstools around teepees of dried corn stalks and several giant pumpkins at least a yard across. To his right, what looked like a real skeleton hung suspended by a hangman’s noose from a lower branch of the huge oak in the corner of their front yard. To his left, another pair of realistic skeletons sat hand in hand in the small gazebo next to the fence between their houses. Clearly, Matt thought, the Hawthornes went all out on Halloween.
The covered porch was lined with more of the marvelous jack-o-lanterns. Cobwebs hung from the newly painted gingerbread trim and between the ornately turned spindles of the recently repaired railing. Leaning over to take a closer look at one of the webs, Matt jerked back in shocked surprise. Both the big black spider and its web were real! Turning in amazement, he went to the windows for a better look at the colored candles; they too were real with flickering flames burning yellow, orange, red, or green.