The Haunting of Falcon House

illus. by Eugene Yelchin. 320p. Holt. Jun. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780805098457.
Gr 5–8—When called to live in his family's ancestral home in St. Petersburg, Russia, 12-year-old Prince Lev is apprehensive. Becoming heir to a foreboding estate that he's never seen is daunting enough, and it is his first time leaving his mother. Add an aunt who can be harsh to say the least, the misrepresented memories of his glorified grandfather, and a night in a haunted study, and it's no surprise that Prince Lev is slightly anxious. But he soon develops a friendship with a mysterious boy who is hardly what he seems. Through a cast of thoroughly quirky characters (with often conflicting accounts), Lev learns the truth about his not-so-honorable grandfather, uncovering some unsettling family secrets and freeing the household from possession along the way. Yelchin introduces czarist Russia to young readers through the use of endnotes and footnotes, a novel albeit uncommon method for this readership. While enlightening, much of the historical content will be missed by children unfamiliar with this technique. Readers will enjoy the budding friendship, and the ghost story/mystery is compelling. Absolutely nothing is overlooked—from plot similarities in the author's introduction to the haunting illustrations, which appear to be drawn by the protagonist. Certainly a different sort of book, this is one that takes time to digest and fully appreciate.
VERDICT A unique historical mystery from a celebrated children's writer and illustrator; a great option for classroom discussion and a jumping-off point for further exploration of Russian history.

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