The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle is a unique children’s middle grade. With the same “don’t trust adults” energy of Unfortunate Events, The Secret Starling is a fun adventure.
Clara has been living with her uncle and following dull rules and equally monotonous routines. He does not seem to like her, and she doesn’t see him enough to know if she likes him back. They live in a large gothic manor, and he can’t even bother to turn the heating on. One day, when the next governess does not come as per the usual schedule, Clara is concerned. Then, when Cook is fired, things get even more worrisome. Her uncle decides to take her out to the shops, which is unusual. He then abandons her and thus begins Clara’s adventures.
“Clara had wasted hour upon hour wondering why Uncle was so mean-spirited. One likely explanation was that he was permanently grief stricken.”
A boy named Peter arrives shortly after, stating that her uncle had told his granny he was supposed to. This is confusing, of course, because Uncle has abandoned Clara. They decide to make the manor their own adventure place and keep away the police. Meeting the misfit kids in the next village, their fun begins. It doesn’t last long, though, as Clara and Peter find a slipper, and it leads to their investigating what really happened to Clara’s mother.
“What does homesick feel like?” she asked.
“Like a sort of hollow in your heart.” Peter sniffed.
Clara was quiet for a moment. A hollow in your heart. The words described perfectly a feeling she’d had for so long it felt normal.
This was one of the best middle-grade books I have ever read. The twists genuinely had me shocked, and this is coming from someone who often figures out thrillers well before I should have. I found it cohesive and understandable, which is really important for a book of this age group. It is a bit dark, with parents dying of suspicious circumstances and perhaps a murder or two, but with the popularity of a Series of Unfortunate Events, I can see this book selling well.
“Her life had exploded into glorious technicolor.”
This book had enough hope and heartwarming that caused it to divert from the dark middle-grade concept. I really enjoyed this because sometimes things can feel too heavy for a book for 11-year-olds and even overly scary. I know they exist in real life, and sometimes things are hard, but this book created a wonderful mix of things being terrifying but still having hope. The way that Clara and Peter’s friendship bloomed and found the army of friends that they did really warmed my heart. I was pleased with the ending of this and was genuinely very happy for a happy ending. This is definitely one I will be recommending to my siblings to get their kiddos.
“She felt a kind of swell, an unfurling of her chest, as if her heart were actually lifting and opening. It was a feeling she had never experienced before, and yet she knew exactly what it was. She felt like she belonged.”
Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.