I have a new favorite middle-grade novel of 2013 (or at least a tie for favorite… I really loved Holly Black’s Doll Bones as well). The Water Castle is a brilliant novel that combines science and fantasy, interweaves past and present, and showcases unique family dynamics and friendships. It is reminiscent of timeless classics. I believe this is a strong contender for Newbery 2014.
The Appledore-Smith family relocates to Crystal Springs, Maine after the father has a stroke and is no longer talking and barely moving. The three siblings and their parents move into a grand house called the Water Castle; it’s a house that has been in their family for generations. They quickly discover the house holds many mysteries and is filled with secret rooms and passageways. At school, middle-child Ephraim meets Mallory and Will and discovers that their families have had ties for generations: Mallory’s ancestors were always the caretakers of the Water Castle, and Will’s family has always been the enemy of the Appledore family. What has really brought these families together in the past and the present is the search for the Fountain of Youth which will cure all illnesses and lead to immortality. The story jumps back and forth between the present day and the early 1900s to show the explorations of the Appledore, Darling, and Wylie families then and now.
Many people are drawing comparisons between The Water Castle and Tuck Everlasting because the Fountain of Youth element. Tuck Everlasting is even mentioned in one of the school scenes. However, as I was reading this book, I was reminded more of Holes. Both books focus on past and present and have a strong link connecting the different times. Also, both have this slightly-fantastical mystery that has been part of the family for generations, and must now be solved by the present protagonists. Just being able to draw these comparisons shows the timeless nature of The Water Castle and speaks to its merit.
There are many powerful elements of this book that make it so strong and noteworthy. For example, the book addresses the issues of different types of prejudice. There are issues of race, gender, financial status, and intellect. These provide many outlets for great discussion. The story as a whole is about exploration and growing up, but by bringing in prejudice, rivalry, and family issues, a depth is added to the book. There is a lot to relate to in this story, and a lot to talk about.
I’ve mentioned that this book feels timeless. Part of this is because of the plot, but it’s also largely due to the setting. A mysterious tale in a small town where something is not quite normal and inside this huge old house with a name and history… it all just feels very classic. Add to that Blakemore’s beautiful, descriptive, intelligent writing and even the little black and white illustrations at the start of each chapter. I think this story has the potential to stick around, and I hope that it does.
One last thing that makes this book truly stand out in my opinion is that the author relies on the reader’s intelligence to piece parts of the story together. Not everything is explained in the end, but there are many clues throughout that enable the reader to infer connections and answers.
The Water Castle is a brilliant story, and I highly recommend it. I hope it receives the recognition it deserves.