Three children stand silhouetted in black in front of a grey castle. A black border features skulls, keys, daggers, and medallions in gold. Text: "The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane. Julia Nobel."

KidLit Book Review: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel


Synopsis

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who’s a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she’s sure she won’t fit in.

But before she leaves, Emmy finds a box of mysterious medallions in the attic of her home — medallions that belonged to her father. Her father who may have gone to Wellsworth.

When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends Jack and Lola to Wellsworth’s secret society: the Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can’t help but think that the society had something to do with her dad’s disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth.


Details

  • Title: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane
  • Series: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane, Book 1
  • Author: Julia Nobel
  • Illustrator: Hannah Peck, art; Ashley Holstrom, design
  • Cover Artist: Hannah Peck, illustration; Jordan Kost, design
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
  • ISBN: 1492664642
  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
  • For Ages: 8-14
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.

I’d like to thank Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing an advance copy via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.


Review

When I requested this title for review, I told the publisher that I was getting strong John Bellairs vibes from the book, with its middle grade mystery, Gorey-esque cover, and promises of secret passageways and clues hidden in medieval relics. There’s no supernatural element to the story, as in Bellairs’s work, but it still gave me the chills and intrigue I was hoping for — the mystery is fascinating, and author Julia Nobel has me eager for the next book in the series. More than anything, though, it is the found family theme at the heart of The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane that makes it a book to remember.

Nobel certainly isn’t the first kidlit author to explore the idea of misfits banding together or schoolmates forming the loving family they wish they had at home, but she does it with such clear-eyed empathy that it truly resonates with the reader. Emmy’s mother, a bestselling parenting expert and honorary commissioner of the Irony Police, sends her to a new school every semester or so. Emmy has long since given up on trying to make friends…after all, what’s the point if she’s going to have to say goodbye to them in a few months? When her mom ships her off to a boarding school on a different continent while she films a reality show teaching people how to be better parents — yes, really — Emmy is convinced that she will continue to be miserable and friendless, just in a different time zone. However, two students at her new school adopt her as one of their own, and they quickly become inseparable.

Emmy’s initial confusion and hesitance before she realizes that, yes, Lola and Jack actually do want to be her friends, is one of the most heartbreakingly relatable things I’ve read in a long while. I remember those feelings from middle school. Heck, I remember those feelings from last week. Not all stories have a happy ending, though. Emmy has a nightmare roommate named Victoria, and when they part ways at the end of the school year, Emmy gets a glimpse into Victoria’s life that lets her understand a bit better the reasons for her coldness and awful behavior. There is no teary scene of forgiveness, though, and no friendship pact is made. It’s an impressive, nuanced scene that will ring true to young readers who know that compassion can only take you so far with people who choose to remain immune to it, but that you should remain compassionate anyway.

The mystery surrounding the Order of Black Hollow Lane was every bit the delicious Gothic-castles-and-hidden-tunnels adventure that I had been expecting. Nobel weaves the clues about Emmy’s missing father and the ominous secret society that may have been the cause of his disappearance in seamlessly with the rest of the narrative. The pacing is strong, and Nobel imbues the Wellsworth grounds with such a sense of foreboding that even Emmy’s mundane activities of going to class and playing soccer generate suspense and tension.

The novel stands strongly on its own, with a satisfying conclusion that resolves the main plotline and completes Emmy’s emotional arc with a contented sigh, but it also raises so many intriguing questions that I’m ready for the next book in the series. With the captivating world that Nobel has built, she has ample room to explore the remaining shadows in the sinister Order. The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane is a brilliant middle grade debut full of bittersweet truths and tantalizing mysteries. Readers will care so deeply about the characters that they will gladly follow them down as many hidden tunnels as it takes to uncover all the Order’s arcane secrets.


Rating

Emmy and her found family really connected with me. I give this book 4.5 out of 5 coffins.

4.5 Coffins


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