Girls in the Walls by A J Gnuse

Where do you go when your parents are killed in a car crash and you have no immediate family? Where do you feel most safe? The new house your parents have just moved to, or the old one, the one you have most memories in, the one that might still hold remnants of your parents, the odd sock fallen and lost into the places no one thinks to look?

Elise is eleven. She remembers how to get into the house and she finds her way into the walls. A new family live there now. A couple with two boys, the youngest, Eddie, almost two years older than her. He is quiet, considered odd because, amongst other things, he doesn’t like the sounds people make when they eat and has his supper apart from his family. He doesn’t tell them about the lego figure that moved inside his carefully constructed castle, or the books that go missing for days. His big brother thinks playing with lego is lame, that he needs to grow up, to stop being so weird. 

The brothers don’t get on, but slowly it becomes clear there is one subject upon which they can agree. They are both certain there is someone else inside their house, moving about, stealing their pop tarts. Their parents won’t believe them, so what are they going to do about it? Will Eddie be man enough to tackle the problem?

There are so many facets to this novel that even though the plot grips and drags you along, it isn’t hard to put yourself in the shoes of every different character. You can imagine longing for the safety of an old house, or lying awake afraid you can hear someone breathing just the other side of the wall, or being a happy-go-lucky, brave and lonely kid who likes to explore other peoples’ houses when they’re out and takes a strange girl in his stride. Even the villain who spends his days in internet chat rooms, obsessed with an old tormentor he knew was living in his house as a kid, feels believable, human, pathologically disturbed but understandable. All of them ready to have their lives exposed by a storm.

Out early next year, Girl in the Walls is a fast-paced read that exposes some of our social cracks. Children can be lost, ignored, pressured by social and gendered stereotypes. Finding a safe home isn’t always easy.

I’ll be reviewing This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga next.