cover image Return to Harken House

Return to Harken House

Joan Aiken. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $13.95 (118pp) ISBN 978-0-385-29975-6

When Julia arrives at Harken House to spend the summer with her father and his second wife, Trudl, she finds that her father is in Lucerne supervising the production of one of his plays, and Trudl, though reasonably hospitable, is preoccupied with her own concerns. It is a lonely time for Julia, punctuated with episodes of what seems to be supernatural possession. She has several bouts of sleepwalking and, more disturbing still, finds that her body has become a sort of microphone through which strange voices shout angry messages. Is Julia haunted by the house's famous ghosts, or is she suffering from a combination of loneliness and a steady diet of 19th-century horror novels? Although Aiken's book never directly answers these questions, its resolution is satisfying nevertheless. When reduced to its essence, Julia's story may not be so very different from that of Aiken's Wolves Chronicles heroine Dido Twite: each girl must cope with a distant, unreliable father and learn to survive in a world peopled with self-absorbed adults. It is the exploration of these issues, even more than the fine storytelling, that makes this novel so compelling. Ages 10-14. (Jan.)