This one may in fact become my favourite Alice Hoffman book, though they’re all pretty awesome and unique. In this story, the Sparrow family, a long line of women, have all woken up on their 13th birthday with a gift. Elinor was able to tell if someone was lying, her daughter Jenny can dream other people’s dreams and her child, Stella, who has just turned 13, finds out that she can see people’s probable cause of death.
In their home town, in crumbling mansion Cake House, the Sparrows have lived for generations, but Jenny fled to Boston with Will as soon as she was able, ignoring Elinor’s warning, who knew him to be a liar immediately.
Years later, when Stella is out at her birthday dinner with her charismatic but morally bankrupt father, whom Jenny is now separated from, Stella sees a woman at another table who will have her throat cut. In desperation, she asks her father to intervene, and he tries to warn the young woman, finally turning to the police. So when the womans body is found, he’s the prime suspect. Concerned for her daughters safety and privacy, Jenny sends Stella home to her grandmother, where Stella starts to uncover her family’s past, and finds out who she is in the process. But the real murderer is still out there somewhere, and might want the one remaining witness to his crime to be silenced forever.
The story is about the strained nature of mother-daughter relationships, as Stella resents her mother interfering and judging her, but Jenny herself still has a lot of anger against her mother, Elinor, who she feels abandoned her. Its also about secrets that a community can hold, such as what really happened to Stellas’s ancestor Rebecca, and about forgiveness and change. I loved the descriptions of the crazy house, and the strange gifts that all the Sparrow women had throughout the generations. The past is evoked so beautifully and saturates the present, and the slow growth of the characters, as they figure things out and heal old wounds is deeply satisfying. It’s a lush, evocative, magical book, and I loved every minute of it.
Read It If: you ever wished you lived in a beautiful old house or had a magical gift. Brilliant.