The first Monday of the month is Wicked Cool Overlooked Book Day over at Chasing Ray, and so I bring you one of my favorite books: The House on Mayferry Street, by Scottish writer Eileen Dunlop (UK title A Flute in Mayferry Street, American edition 1977, recommended for 10-14, or even older...).
There are some children's books that, if you read them for the first time as an adult, seem dull and insipid, yet you know that if you had read them when you were younger, they might have had magic to them. This is not the case for The House on Mayferry Street. I read it for the first time three years ago, and thought it one of the most magical (in the non-spells and fairies meaning of the word) books I've ever read.
The house on Mayferry Street, in Edinburgh, is the large, old, partly empty family home of the Ramseys, 11 year old Colin, his older sister, Marion, and their mother (as well as two tenants). Soon after their father died, a few years before the story begins, Marion was hit by a bus, and now uses a wheelchair. But she won't go out in it, and sits at home, growing increasingly depressed. An old letter from 1914, found while dusting the family bookshelves, brings the first glimmer of interest to her mind for months. When an old picture of a young man in uniform is found in a crack in the floorboards, Colin and Marion begin a quest for answers about the two young men whose story seems to be hidden in the old house. As the quest progresses, the past and the present begin to merge, and the music of a lost flute begins to haunt the house. In the end, Colin and Marion find all that they were looking for.
The supernatural elements, although central to the plot, never overshadow the beautifully drawn characters. They are lovable, but allowed to be imperfect and become furious with each other, and to learn from their mistakes. Edinburgh, Mayferry Street, and the house itself are never "described" in a "here is the description" way, but they become real places in the reader's mind. The mystery (leaving out the slippery-ness of time), is perfectly believable. And there is a smidge of romance at the end, for suckers for sentiment like myself.
Here's another blog review of it, just to show that I'm not alone!
Libraries all over America seem to have bought this book when it came out, just when I would have been the right age for it. Why didn't I read it then???? I would have loved it so very much. But if you haven't read it, it is not too late--all those libraries have now discarded it (except my own, because I keep checking it out), and so you can pick it up on line for a few bucks. It was reprinted in the UK as a paperback in 2000, so is quite available over there.
Eileen Dunlop also wrote Elizabeth, Elizabeth (UK title Robinsheugh), a time slip story that scared me somewhat when I first read it at the age of 8, but which I appreciate more now, as well as many other fine books.
Jen Robinson is rounding up other overlooked ones here. Enjoy!