The best thing of all

The House at the End of Hope Street (NetGalley)
Menna van Praag
release date: April 4, 2013

This house may not give you what you want, but it will give you what you need. And the event that brought you here, the thing you think is the worst thing that’s ever happened? when you leave, you’ll realize it was the very best thing of all. 

At fifteen, precocious Alba began study at King’s College, the youngest ever admitted. And while her

intelligence was remarkable, so was her other gift– for Alba saw her grandmother’s ghost, her mother’s aura moments before she entered the room, and the color and shape of people’s words spilling into the air. But her incredible gifts didn’t shield Alba from pain: her mother was in and out of mental hospitals, her father had disappeared, and her older siblings turned her a cold shoulder. Add to that the worst event of her life (which also resulted in her withdrawal from university), and Alba finds herself homeless and running away.

Until, that is, she finds herself on the doorstep of the house at the end of Hope Street, ringing the bell. And when Alba enters the house, she finds it speaks her language: the floors soften to meet her feet, the walls breathe, and hundreds (thousands?) of women look out at her from their framed photographs which fill every inch of wall space. Peggy, beautiful at eighty-something, is the current house mother. The house’s mission? To give women ninety days to right their topsy turvy lives. So Alba joins Carmen, a singer with a dark secret, and Greer, an actor whose roles leave her feeling empty, on a sweet journey of self-discovery.

When Alba loses her mother, she discovers the family she thought she knew was a sham. For a time, her preoccupation with the worst event of her life takes a back seat while she sets out to find her father and unravel family secrets, pulled forward by the ghost of Stella, a former resident of Hope Street. And then, spurred on by Carmen to write her lyrics for a love song, Alba allows herself to (finally) experience love.

Part of Alba’s charm for me was her voracious appetite for books, which very much mirrors my own and many other book lovers, I’m sure: “Alba stopped trying to make friends and instead sought refuge in the library. It was there she discovered worlds far more wonderful than hers, populated by character so captivating and lives so sensational that it was quite easy, after a few pages, to forget about her own life.” Writer Menna van Praag never lets her characters or the plot slip into cliche, although I expected it at every page turn. The novel is a bit like Harry Potter for grown-ups. Alba’s special gifts remain believable and her life unfolds more satisfying–and perhaps more simply–than she ever dreamed.  And true to some of Peggy’s first words to Alba, the worst thing that ever happened becomes the best thing of all.

On a side note, I somehow missed my 100th post–that seems, somehow, like a milestone! This post makes 1-0-2–celebrate! [Image courtesy of cyberscooty]

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