________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 24. . . .February 26, 2010


Grim Hill: The Family Secret. (Grim Hill, Book 4).

Linda DeMeulemeester.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2010.
192 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-897550-65-6.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Caitlin J. Berry.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Just as I sat down, Ms. Dreeble came over.

“Your aunt has arrived,” Ms. Dreeble said.

I pulled back my chair and followed Ms. Dreeble and the subdued Sookie through the tapestried halls into the ancient and stuffy-smelling hotel lobby. Aunt Hildegaard was nothing like I had expected. The other ladies I knew who were that age –– the Greystone sisters –– were slim, gray haired, and proper looking, wearing silk tea dresses and gloves and hats when they went outside. Aunt Hildegaard, tall and broad shouldered, looked extremely fit in her farming boots and thick wool sweater. Her salt-and-pepper hair was piled high on her head in braids, and her sharp green eyes sent chills down my spine.

The wrinkles of her leathery face folded deeply into a stern expression.

“Hello,” I said nervously.

“God dag.” Her large, calloused hands reached out and shook ours in a hearty grip. “It’s time for you to learn a few Swedish phrases.” Then without so much as an “I’m so happy to see you,” she turned abruptly and started talking to Ms. Dreeble. Mom had said Aunt Hildegaard was kindly and warm, but this woman seemed neither.

When teachers at Darkmont High announce plans for a student exchange to Sweden, Cat Peters can hardly contain herself. Never before has she wanted something so badly. And never before has something looked quite so unlikely: her grades are tepid at best, her behaviour (according to her teachers) questionable, and what’s worse is that her mother almost most certainly cannot afford to send her on such an expensive trip.

     Yet, Cat Peters is a girl who is used to challenge. For someone who virtually single handedly battled the forces of faery three times previous, surely convincing adults to allow her to go on the exchange trip can’t be half as difficult. Indeed, after persuading (not easily, mind) her teachers that she is responsible, and after spearheading the school fundraising campaign, her chances of seeing Sweden become a great likelihood. On one condition, of course.

     The condition is, that Sookie, her younger, trouble-making (to say the least) magic-dabbling kid-sister go too. Impossible! But Cat’s mom is not to be swayed: it’s the only way for the family to afford the expensive travel costs. And according to Cat’s mother, apparently Cat and Sookie have living Swedish ancestry –– most specifically that of a distant Great Aunt Hildegaard, whom neither of them has met. Mysterious Aunt Hildegaard has agreed to pay for the trip on the condition that she might finally meet her long lost nieces.

     Arriving in Sweden, Sookie does prove to be as much -- if not more -- of a pain than Cat had imagined she’d be. Touring about Stockholm, Sookie immediately splits off alone, and gets lost, only to be rescued (although lured might be a better word) by a strange woman in an eerie trinket shop (this is not the last we’ll see of the woman, of course). Worse, Sookie is having recurring frightening visions -- visions that portend great danger for Cat.

     When Cat and Sookie finally do meet their Great Aunt Hildegaard in the spooky town of Blakulla, Cat is altogether disheartened. Aunt Hildegaard is steely and stern, built like a linebacker, and expects both Cat and Sookie to help out with farm chores. Even creepier, Cat and Sookie discover a terrifying man by the name of Osgaard who works on the farm.

     When the Celtic holiday of Walpurgis Night grows closer, Cat discovers that the townspeople of Blakulla are very nervous, and perhaps for good reason. Apparently Walpurgis Night is a time when witches, along with their troll helpers, emerge from hiding and use magic for evil. Bone chillingly, Cat uncovers that Sookie is deep in the grips of this dark lore, and that the witches have their beady eyes on her little sister. Apparently Sookie has the makings of a horribly powerful witch herself, and they want to tap into her magic, making her one of their own. So much for a relaxing Swedish vacation....

     Grim Hill: The Family Secret is a quick read, and a delightful one at that. DeMeulemeester does a fabulous job at starting the story off at a walloping pace. Before we know it, she’s taken us fast and furiously on the adventure. Setting it in an alternate location such as Sweden is a welcome and exciting change, as DeMeulemeester further piques our interest with this intriguing, far-flung setting.

     Cat, once again, is a feisty, entertaining protagonist who is also highly empathetic as a typical girl of her age: she struggles in school, gets in trouble (without meaning to), is distracted by boys, and is driven crazy by a little sister. All the while, Sookie is a delicious character as she dances the line between sweet young girl and potential villain. DeMeulemeester does a lovely job of portraying this complexity, as well as the tenuous (but loving) relationship between the two sisters.

     Alternatively, because the story moves at such a galloping pace, some of the lore gets lost in the mix, and the mythology seems to be thrown with great caution to the wind. All the same, the structure holds firm, and we simply want to devour more of this author’s highly readable and intriguing prose that she has a knack for creating and for which readers develop a further appetite. Next installment, please!


Caitlin J. Berry is a graduate of Vermont College’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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