Waltzing With Mathilda

The Other Side of Elsewhere by Brett McKay is written as if from the point of view of a twelve-year-old boy, Ret. He is at a happy place in his life. It is summer (no school) and he has successfully lived with his family for an uninterrupted period of three years. Ret has friends; he is comfortable that a lifestyle marked by almost annual family relocations is over. True, his dad works two jobs and is rarely around. His mom also works full-time, although only one job. Then she returns home to become the parent figure in the family that must do everything, household chores and administration of family discipline. And true, his oldest brother orders him around and his youngest brother annoys him. It is good that his second older brother is a reliable confidante. But Ret is happy to spend time with a couple of close friends, Gary and Jax. And he enjoys the company of several other neighborhood kids, up to thirty, in an occasional community water fight.

Close friends at Ret’s age seek adventure. Racing bikes down steep hills to see if the results are less than broken bones and damaged bikes is an adventure. Accepting dares from older kids is an adventure. Spending a night in an abandoned house is an adventure. Especially if the house is not completely abandoned; it is at least occupied by a rumored ghost. When the three boys accept a dare to spend a night in the “crooked” house, the rumor, named Mathilda, was confirmed as far as Ret was concerned. Mathilda even went so far as to steal Ret’s pillow. At some point, she would even visit Ret’s home to return the pillow. Somewhere around this event, this story gets creepy. A returned pillow coupled with a steadily increasing number of disappearing people draws the reader into a mystery that develops slowly in a clever, nuanced way.

It should not be a surprise that a novel written from a tween point of view does not include sexual or violent language. There is a description of what a French kiss might be. There are a few “hells” and “damns” as kids on a sleepover dare to be vulgar like the big people (older kids and adults). This is a safe read for all ages. There is the attraction of a ghost story that does not include graphic gore. This is a book I recommend for readers who are studying English as a Second Language; the story can hold reader interest while not sending them scrambling for a dictionary every fifth word.

From the beginning of the story, my attention was drawn to McKay’s descriptive language. The reader can easily build a mental picture of the crooked house, both interior and exterior, by slowing down reading speed just a bit and dwelling on building mental images. The same is true of the description of Dead Man’s Hill. Here is a line that caught my attention: “In usual Victorian-mansion style, there were fourteen steps, narrow and steep.” (Kindle Location 474). Was this the result of research? Was it usual to have fourteen steps in a Victorian style mansion? The thorough attention to detail in description continues throughout the novel but it impressed me immediately from the beginning.

This is a solid four Amazon star read. I read it after reading Damage Inc also by Brett McKay.

 

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