House of Salt and Sorrows

Delacorte. Aug. 2019. 416p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781984831927.
Gr 8 Up–An accomplished first novel, equal parts gothic fairy tale and romance. Teenage Annaleigh and her seven sisters live in their ancestral house of Highmoor with their father and stepmother, the Duke and Duchess of the People of the Salt. Their family has been in near-continuous mourning for years after the deaths, one by one, of the girls’ mother and four older sisters. Desperate for some happiness and an escape from their island community, the girls find a hidden passageway and begin a series of secret nights dancing their shoes into tatters at darkly splendid balls. The foreboding atmosphere intensifies, and eventually Annaleigh decides to forgo the parties and unravel the mysteries surrounding her family’s ongoing tragedies. Loosely based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” the novel takes place in a 17th-century European–sounding world where an invented pantheon of gods guide, and sometimes afflict, their human devotees. The author’s background in theater design surely contributed to Annaleigh’s first-person narration as she tells the sisters’ story in lavish visual detail. Well-described settings with rocky shores, obsidian fireplaces, and satin gowns bring this magical realm to life. Nuanced heroes and villains with complex backstories reveal their motives throughout the narrative, and the cause—and resolution—of the family’s sorrows is both unexpected and thoroughly satisfying.
VERDICT Compulsively readable, with sweet young love and truly creepy horror. First purchase for school and public libraries.

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