By Kate Milford
Published 2014 by Clarion Books
Milo is looking forward to a peaceful Christmas with his parents. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen this year. This year, a rash of unexpected guests at his family's inn will guarantee anything but a peaceful Christmas. But why exactly are they all here? Milo is determined to find out.
So, as you should know by now, this was one of the Cybils finalists in my category. This means that I finished the book back in January but was unable to post a review earlier. Now that we've announced our winner, I'm free to discuss the titles we considered.
Right from the start I was on board with this book. There is something about a wintertime mystery that just suits me. In fact, when I started, I really wished I had read this book on Christmas, snow outside, a big warm blanket around me. Milford does an excellent job of setting the scene - Milo's family inn is in a snowy countryside, isolated from any town. Though Nagspeake is, of course, fictional, I didn't have a difficult time imagining it or Greenglass House. I believe all of Milford's novels take place in Nagspeake; I'm eager to explore it more in the future.
I liked Milo from page one also. He reminded me a lot of myself - he likes things a certain way, he's pretty solitary, and he's obviously got a great relationship with his parents. I thought Milford did an excellent job of exploring Milo's conflicting feelings about being adopted and his family. I thought the use of the game to explore his identity was clever.
This book reminded me so much of The Westing Game, one of my favorite books of all time. Much like that book, the mystery here is pretty much note-perfect. Everything is there for a reason. It's complex and, for the most part, deals with issues that kids will have no experience with. But, that's precisely why I love both these books so much: neither author is afraid of writing a complicated book for kids, even if most of the characters are adults living adult lives and trying to solve adult problems. Like Raskin, Milford knows that you don't have to talk down to kids to write a book they'll enjoy.
The one stumbling block for me with this book is the twist. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but it felt a little too much of a convenient out. That said, I didn't exactly see it coming (I had my suspicions, though), but I wouldn't be surprised if clever readers did figure it out ahead of time.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one and will definitely recommend it to young readers.