cover image The Woman in the Wall

The Woman in the Wall

Patrice Kindl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-395-83014-7

Kindl follows her magical Owl in Love with a novel featuring an equally gripping premise. A metaphorical study of an agoraphobic child, it opens with a series of emotional, surreal images-but eventually degenerates into trite teen romance and platitudes about sheltering the ""frightened child-self."" Living with her sensitive mother and boisterous sisters in an enormous old house, Anna imitates her absentee father by fading out of her family's life. Painfully shy, ""with a face like a glass of water,"" she is so small and transparent her sisters sit on her by mistake. When her mother threatens to send her to school, Anna-who has preternatural skills with power tools and sewing needles-retreats permanently into the walls of the house, where she builds a maze of secret, undersize rooms and passages. Next met in adolescence, she develops a crush on a visitor to the house and exchanges letters with him without revealing her identity (he thinks he's corresponding with her beautiful older sister). The action culminates with Anna attending a Halloween party, where she incurs her older sister's wrath and triggers a chase scene that lacks the energy to be either slapstick or dramatic. In the process, Anna realizes she is attractive and decides to reenter the world. The resonant originality of the first few chapters is undermined by the conventional conflicts and resolution. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)