Amber House, by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed (Scholastic, October 2012), has a great first line, that tells you right from the get go that strange things are going to happen with time--
"I was almost sixteen the first time my grandmother died."
Her grandmother's funeral is the first time Sarah Parsons has come to Amber House, the great Maryland estate that has been in her family for generations, full to the roof beams with family treasure, and family secrets (Amber House is a good name for it, because lots and lots of piece of the past have gotten stuck there...). Sarah's mother wants to sell the house, and quickly--she'd become estranged from her mother, and doesn't have any desire to become the next chatelaine of Amber House. But Sarah still has time to begin exploring, encouraged by another teenager, Jackson, who's grown up at Amber House, and who is in fact a distant cousin thanks to the rape of his several times great grandmother by one of Sarah's slave owning ancestors.
And as Sarah explores, Amber House begins, literally, to show her its secrets. The women in her family have the gift of slipping through time, to watch events from the past play out. Past and present are tightly entwined, and Sarah finds herself desperately trying to fix the tragedy that changed her mother and drove her from home. She's helped in her quest by visits through time with Jackson's African great, great grandmother, who offers council, and helped as well by her own pluck and determination, and Jackson's obvious caring.
In the meantime, Sarah's mother is determined to have a grand party for Sarah's 16th birthday, and a rich young wasp boy of great attractiveness seems to be falling for her, and Sarah wonders if she is falling for him, and she also finds herself drawn to Jackson. The party planning elements seemed excessive even for an excessive party, and the wasp boy was kind of a pointless distraction (I didn't feel he added much to the book in terms of plot; he felt more like a cute rich boy accessory). These parts of the book, though, might well appeal much more to the target teen audience.
I myself was more interested in the house, but though I really like old houses full of treasures in my fiction, there just seemed (again) to be a bit Too Much. Too much melodrama, too many secrets, both architectural and familial, basically just an overly lavish hand that kept individual elements from shinning as brightly as I would have liked. Yet the twists and turns of the secrets as they were uncovered, and the character of the House itself, kept me turning the pages eagerly... All those who like teenage romance with family complications, opulence, and historical mystery thrown in will doubtless enjoy Amber House lots!
My main complaint is that everything gets Set Right at the end of the book; Sarah has fixed things so that her mother is a completely different person, the one she was meant to be, and so her parents marriage is saved, the house is saved, and everyone is happy. It was a bit too much to swallow, and seemed to me to retrospectively weaken the emotional tension of the whole rest of the book. I'm kind of glad to see that the sequel shows that happy ever after isn't necessarily the best idea!
It turns out that although the immediate problems are solved, more have been created--the whole course of American history is changed! In Neverwas, Sarah and Jackson work together again to set things right...and I liked them both enough that I have added that one to my library holds list!
disclaimer: Amber House was received from the publisher a long, long time ago, and fell curse to the "I'll probably enjoy this one so I'll set it on the shelf and save it for a bit" trap that resulted in its being saved much too long.