YA Review: The Book of Hidden Wonders

The Book of Hidden Wonders, by Polly Crosby

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This was an ARC from NetGalley.

This is a hard book to categorize, because it has so many facets. It’s part (maybe) YA, part mystery, part suspense, and even has a hint of fantastical ghost story to it. The final result is a chilling coming of age story about a young girl and her father.

Romilly Kemp and her dad move into an old house in the countryside following a mysterious family crisis. He’s an artist, and for a while struggles to make ends meet and keep food on the table that’s not cold tinned beans. And then, like in a fairy tale, their fortune changes in dramatic fashion. Tobias writes a series of books with Romilly as the star, and with what might be clues to a treasure hunt. The books sell extraordinarily well, Romilly and Tobias can finally have some comfort, and the promise of treasure keeps readers buying the series.

But this fairy tale has a sharp cautionary edge: the fans become more aggressive, camping out at the Kemp house and rooting through their garden with spades and shovels. The fan letters start to become threatening, and Romilly ends up becoming a prisoner in her own home. She stops attending school, and even her mysterious friend Stacey seems to abandon her. In the meantime, Romilly’s mother makes an unexpected return, and her presence sets off a chain of discoveries about certain members of the family. At one point, Romilly decides to join in on the treasure hunt, and ends up learning more than she thought she wanted to know about her own past.

Romilly’s journey is interwoven with that of her father, whose mental health is suffering throughout the years he spends writing the treasure books. Dementia is beginning to make him unpredictable, and Romilly soon has to make some difficult choices concerning both their futures. All this is wrapped up in a dreamlike atmosphere, where certain characters and events may or my not be real, and Romilly gradually feels her grip on reality shift.

I really enjoyed this story. It does have a slow start, but the creepy details soon begin to appear, and from then on it’s actually quite the page-turner. It’s intense and honest about Romilly’s transition from childhood to adolescence, and how her isolation from other kids her age warps her sense of herself, and this aspect made her character especially compelling. Now I just need to go back and read it again, to gather the clues that lead to its surprising ending.

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