An Exciting New Book Series for Middle Grade Readers (a Schoolhouse Crew Review)

As kids get older, they often pass from the days of loving to read and listen to a wide variety of books to being more picky about the books they read. There are many things that compete for kids’ attention, and if they can’t find books they love, they’ll simply choose not to read.

I was excited about a recent review because I’m always on the lookout for good books for my middle grade kids. We received The Glass Castle by Trisha White Priebe and Jerry B. Jenkins from Shiloh Run Press. This book is especially recommended for ages 10-14, and it’s the first book in a new series- The 13 Series.

Although I thought my older kids might like the book as well, I particularly had in mind Ashlyne- age 12- and Rachel- age 10- for this book. Both girls are capable of reading independently, but I never pass up an opportunity to read aloud. Because I wanted them both to hear the book, and I wanted to read it as well for review, I jumped at the chance and used it as a read aloud for our first time reading the book.

The Plot

Avery and her three-year-old brother Henry are walking in the woods on her thirteenth birthday, when they hear noises behind them. They run to Avery’s castle tree house to hide, only to discover that the noise was their dog, Bronte. Avery is filled with relief until she discovers that she and her brother really were being followed. And all of a sudden she finds herself trapped in a box and bumping along on a cart.

The book begins with this set of dramatic events, and readers are swept into the story.

Avery finds herself prisoner in a castle. Although she’s very confused about what, exactly, is going on at first, little by little things are revealed. Most importantly she knows that her brother is being held somewhere else and that his well-being is dependent upon Avery’s full cooperation.

Avery discovers that everyone else held prisoner in the castle is thirteen just like her. Unlike Avery, all of the others are orphans. Avery’s mother disappeared several years ago, but her father is still alive- or is as far as Avery knows. 
As days drag on and Avery realizes that she probably isn’t leaving the castle anytime soon, she determines to learn all she can about the mysterious events happening to her. She is befriended by a girl named Kate upon her arrival at the castle, and she makes other friends along the way.

Strange things are going on in the castle. And as Avery struggles to make sense of the fact that hundreds of thirteen-year-olds are all hidden away in the castle, she also begins to realize that she already knows about the castle- from songs and stories her mother used to tell.

But how did Avery’s mother know about this castle? Are Avery’s father and brother safe? And why are all these children secreted away and hidden in this castle? The questions just keep building as the story proceeds.

The Kids’ Thoughts

Ashlyne and Rachel enjoyed the book from the beginning. I asked them each to give a quote of what they thought about the book.

Ashlyne (age 12)- “I like it even though I normally don’t like reading. It was easy to picture everything that was happening. I think that a movie made off of it would be good. On a scale of one to ten, I would rate it a nine.”

Rachel (age 10)- “I think it was interesting. My favorite character was Avery because she is curious. I also liked Kate. The characters are all good. The book was easy to listen to. It gives good descriptive words. The book also has a good name, and I really like the cover. On a scale of one to ten, I would rate it a nine.”

My Thoughts

I really appreciate that this is a book targeted at tween readers that isn’t dark. So many books for this age group have some really dark undertones. Although The Glass Castle definitely has mystery and suspense, it isn’t particularly dark.
There are some very positive messages here for kids. Love of family, the importance of friendship, being kind even when others aren’t- all of these are messages presented to kids throughout the story. Spiritual nuggets of truth make an appearance. This quote is a good example. The children have gone into the chapel where they worship, and Avery is seeing it for the first time. 

“What did you think?” Kate asked when the service drew to a close.
“I think this chapel is a great place for self-reflection.”
Kate laughed. “Silly, Avery. We don’t worship to reflect on ourselves. We worship to reflect on God.”


Quotes like this encouraged even me as an adult to ponder.

Although we really liked the book, I did think it was sometimes confusing. It seemed that any answers Avery found were replaced by more and more questions. It didn’t seem to bother the girls, but I was confused at times. And this book is only the beginning of a series. All of our questions definitely weren’t answered when we came to the end of the book.

One other thing to mention: There is indication of a young romance between Avery and Tuck- one of the boys in the castle. There is definitely nothing inappropriate. But we try to discourage tweens “dating” or “liking each other” or whatever an exclusive relationship between boy and girl happens to be called at the moment. When we come across it in a book like this, it gives us an opportunity to discuss our family’s stance. But I like it when books for this age group don’t always have to work a relationship like that into the story.

Overall, we’ve really enjoyed The Glass Castle. If you’re looking for a book that is well-written and is going to catch and hold kids attention, this is a good one. It’s clean and has positive messages also, making it a book you’ll feel good about recommending to the kids.

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