Book Review: The House that Wasn’t There

Alder doesn’t remember much about his dad, but his favorite photo was taken in front of the walnut tree in the yard between his house and his neighbor’s house. He loves that tree. Oak doesn’t want to move from San Fransisco to Los Angeles, yet here she is. When her mom decides to do construction on their house, that big tree on their property has to be cut down. Alder is devastated, Oak is frustrated by being ignored, and the fifth grade might just not be big enough for the both of them. But when two lonely kittens, a storm, and a magical experience draw them together, they may just discover they have more in common than they thought.

The House that Wasn’t There by Elana K. Arnold is beautifully written with a distinct voice. It handles tough subjects with grace, including the difficulty of making friends, fractured friendships, a deceased parent, and enjoying non-gender norm hobbies. These topics are all age appropriately accessible while maintaining an encouraging tone, and are introduced organically. This is one of those novels that helps a kid really see themselves in a book.

These very real topics are tempered with a dash of magical realism. As Oak and Alder connect over a shared experience and set out to solve the mystery that it reveals, the limits of coincidence are explored.

This novel has great character development. This novel showcases the myriad of personalities and personas people inhabit beautifully. Every character we meet, from the protagonists to their teacher, classmates, and relatives is their own unique and memorable character.

This middle grade novel is sure to please readers who love a bit of magical realism.

Thank you to HarperCollins children’s books and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book such that I could write this review. This was a treat to read!

The House that Wasn’t There will be released March 30, 2021.


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