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Winterborne Home: The Meaning of Lost and Found

My younger sister bought a book last year. It was titled Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor, written by Ally Carter. I’d wanted to read it for a while, but it was only this year that I finally had the time to sit down and do it (and she finally let me borrow it). While it was a little young for my age group, it was very fun with a strong emotional core. I was a little disappointed that Carter rushed through several key moments in the story that could have been more developed. Still, I found it a very charming read, and definitely worth introducing to your kids if they enjoy stories of orphans, mysteries, and giant old mansions by the sea. 

Our main character is eleven-year-old April, a crafty orphan girl with no memory of her parents. All she has is a mysterious key and a promise that her mother will come back for her. Living as an on-and-off foster kid, April has learned not to trust anybody, not even Ms. Nelson of the Winterborne Foundation, who takes her to a very special orphanage — one for children with strange pasts and amazing talents. After she discovers that the symbol on her key is the same as the Winterborne crest, April is plunged into a dangerous mystery. What is Ms. Nelson hiding? Who can she trust? And, most importantly, where, oh where is the long lost Gabriel Winterborne, heir to the estate? Through every twist and turn, April discovers more about the house’s dark past — and how to open her heart to love, friendship, and a place to call home. 

April is a compelling protagonist, made even more so when you consider the reality she comes from — the potential horrors of the foster care system. Carter does a great job at showing her slowly adapt to a safe environment; it honestly brought me to tears. The mystery itself is super fun, too, and every character — from graceful Ms. Nelson to tiny, clever Violet — are unique, endearing, and bring a lot to the story. Not to mention the arc April has is absolutely beautiful. Watching her slowly fall in love with the house, her new friends, and her parental figures is such a poignant show of how badly everyone needs a family, no matter how much they may think they are better off alone. However, all of these elements are brought down by one crucial thing: pacing. Every emotional beat is rushed through, every clue discovered is discovered barely a chapter after April begins to search for it. The emotional climax of the story, while very sweet, does not carry the weight it needs to because we have had little to no time with these interesting characters, nor do we get to see them bond or interact when they should. To top it all off, the writing style does a lot of telling and not enough showing, leaving me feeling like I learned everything from the narrator of the story and not nearly enough from the characters themselves — a crucial cornerstone to every good novel. All these little flaws made the found family message more hollow than it was trying to be — which is sad, because the found family trope has so much potential for good character arcs, laying the foundation for some of the best stories of all time (Avatar: The Last Airbender, for example). Still, in spite of these flaws, I can’t judge it too harshly. It is, after all, a book for a much smaller audience than me. It’s a blast to read, perfect for younger kiddos who are just starting to expand their reading horizons. A ⅗ book for me, but one I’d gladly recommend to any child who wants to be a superhero, a spy… or a little bit of both! 

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