Behind the Bookcase
Sarah Marie Steiner’s mother grew up in a spooky-looking house and tells her husband and her children she had a strange childhood. Her own mother, Grandma Winnie, kept telling her about strange places and unusual activity in and around the house. Sarah’s mother thought Grandma Winnie just liked to tell stories, particularly about the land of Penumbra where “souls of the dead go to sleep,” but Sarah’s mother didn’t really take any of the stories seriously.
"Although author Mark Steensland is no stranger to writing, publishing or storytelling, this is his first novel. Something tells me it won’t be his last."
After Grandma Winnie dies, Sarah and her family move into her house for the summer so they can clean it out and sell it. However, strange things start happening. The unusual noises at night, the mysterious unfinished letter, the locked door in the basement that doesn’t seem to have a key and the secret passageway Sarah finds behind the bookcase all make Sarah think there might be some truth to Grandma Winnie’s seemingly outrageous tales.
Sarah is timid by nature, but when she discovers the secret passage behind the bookcase, she decides to explore. It’s very dark and she takes a flashlight with her. She doesn’t see the hole in the floor and drops down into Scotopia, the land where shadows come from. There she meets Balthazat, a talking cat; Lefty, a big hand with an eye in the middle of it; Jeb, a boy with only half a face; and other strange creatures who live in the land.
After her fall into Scotopia, Sarah has to figure out how to get back home. After she learns how, she discovers she has been tricked. She not only has to get back to her house, she also has to find a way to enter Penumbra before it’s too late. This is quite a tall order for such a small girl and often the going is rough. At first, Sarah is ready to call it quits, but her new friend Jeb says, “As long as we keep trying, there’s always a chance.” Later, when her friends are ready to give up, Sarah reminds them that “there’s always a chance.”
In her adventures, Sarah’s able to conquer her fears. She learns that people, or things, aren’t always what they seem and not everyone can be trusted. Even when she discovers the truth about who’s trustworthy and who isn’t, Jeb reminds her, “We believed the best about where we were and about those we met. Tell you the truth, I’d rather be that way and live with the mistakes than always think the worst of everything and everyone.” Sarah also learns the truth about Penumbra and finds out her Grandma Winnie wasn’t so crazy after all.
I enjoyed reading this book. The writing is strong, the characters are memorable, and the storyline moves along quickly. Although author Mark Steensland is no stranger to writing, publishing or storytelling, this is his first novel. Something tells me it won’t be his last.
Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on November 5, 2012