Book Review: House of Dark Shadows, by Robert Liparulo

In the brief research I did before reading this book, I discovered that Liparulo is well-known for his suspense/thriller books for adults. This still did not prepare me for the incredibly intense first chapter of his new book for young adults, House of Dark Shadows. Intense, and a little disturbing, the first chapter grabs your attention right away and lets you know that this book, and the author, mean business.

Xander and his family have moved from the city to a remote, back woods town, for reasons that no one but Xander’s father seems to understand. The 15 year old Xander is moody and upset about the move, but he manages to turn his love for indie filmmaking into a survival technique by looking at the major life changes as a movie storyline. Even he can’t imagine how the plot will twist, though, when his father finds them an old, abandoned Victorian as their new home.

The spacious house seems to have a life of its own – throwing sounds and voices, revealing mysterious footprints on the dusty floorboards. Xander is simultaneously scared and excited by the charged atmosphere in the house, and he quickly confides in his 12 year old brother, David. The two of them set off to explore the house and the surroundings, finding adventures and peril beyond their expectations.

This book was fast-paced and enjoyable. I kept fearing that the suspenseful elements were going to turn towards horror, but Liparulo keeps things on a fine wire between dark and fantastical. It’s a clean read throughout, with several good, heart-thumping moments. I especially want to compliment Liparulo on creating a story that involves each member of a family. So often in young adult fiction, the parents are trivialized, or the siblings are made into cartoon characters. In House of Dark Shadows, Xander and his brother are clearly close (despite the difficulty of their tween/teen phases), and they both love their younger sister. When there is difficulty, they go to their father, and there are scenes with their mother reaching out to them with concern. It’s wonderful to see a teenage protagonist facing problems and challenges, and seeing that he actually chooses his family as a resource for solving them.

House of Dark Shadows is the first in the projected six-book Dreamhouse Kings series, which explains why it feels like such a brief read. You definitely end the book poised for the next big step, and I’m really interested to know where that step will lead! (The second book, Watcher in the Woods, is also available in bookstores now, with the third book, Gatekeepers, available early January 2009.)

Book details:

Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Format: Printed Case Hardcover
Publish Date: 05/06/08
Pages: 304