cover image The Aviary

The Aviary

Kathleen O’Dell. Knopf, $15.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-375-85605-1

It’s been a few years since readers have heard from O’Dell, apparently because she’s been getting her Frances Hodgson Burnett on. This Gilded Age departure from O’Dell’s contemporary fare depicts Clara Dooley, an 11-year-old invalid whose mother keeps the fabulous, mysterious house of a magician’s widow, Mrs. Glendoveer. The kindly widow has secrets, not least of which is her love for five terrifying birds that live in an iron cage in the garden, but she dies before Clara can discover more than that she had a baby who disappeared. Clara, lonely and rebellious, struggles to make contact with a neighbor, Daphne, despite her mother’s prohibitions. Daphne relays more gossip about the Glendoveers, but it’s not until Daphne’s kitten gets inside the aviary that Clara begins unraveling the truth. Nursing the injured honeycreeper, Clara believes the bird responds by “talking.” Can it be? The honeycreeper’s encouragement leads to discovery after discovery in a well-paced, high-tension mystery that draws not only on Burnett, but also C.S. Lewis, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and Neil Gaiman, joining a rich heritage of stories about children with a secret “room of their own.” Ages 8–12. (Sept.)