The House That Wasn’t There

HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Mar. 2021. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062937063.
Gr 3-7–Alder and his new neighbor, Oak, are pretty certain they are not going to be friends. Sure, they live next door to each other, are both named after trees, and are in the same sixth grade class, but Alder isn’t sure he can forgive Oak after her family cuts down the big walnut tree that sat between their houses. Neither is he sure he can forgive how easily she makes friends at a new school in a new city, when his own best friend since kindergarten is acting distant and weird. But the universe seems determined to throw Alder and Oak together—well, the universe, a portal to another dimension, a couple of kittens, a school project, and a taxidermy opossum named Mort. Arnold takes on themes of friendship, family, loss, and growth in this novel. Alder and Oak, both white, are well-rounded characters with flaws, interests, and a realistic range of emotions. Oak, for example, hates that she was not consulted about her family’s move but also understands what a great opportunity it presented her mom. She misses San Francisco and her friends but starts to make new friends and feel more at home in L.A. Alder slowly begins to let his interests be known to someone other than his closest friend and finds new friends along the way. There are a lot of coincidences that may not hold up if looked at too closely, but readers won’t want to pick them apart.
VERDICT Arnold creates a world that is both completely normal and wonderfully magical, and readers will want to be a part of it. Recommended.

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