The boy’s name was Adler. He was eleven and a half years old, and he had lived in the house at 15 Rollingwood Drive since before he could remember. In fact, he had been born there.

And so begins the story about the friendship between a boy and girl. My first experience with this type of plot dates back to when I read Bridge to Terabathia by Katherine Paterson. I was forever hooked on these coming of age tales and the characters’ quest to find understanding in each other’s life. With THE HOUSE THAT WASN’T THERE we have another great one to enjoy with a perfect combination: a contemporary story with a touch of magical realism.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Alder has always lived in his cozy little house in Southern California. And for as long as he can remember, the old, reliable, comforting walnut tree has stood between his house and the one next door. That is, until a new family—with a particularly annoying girl his age—moves into the neighboring house and, without warning, cuts it down.

Oak doesn’t understand why her family had to move to Southern California. She has to attend a new school, find new friends, and live in a new house that isn’t even ready—her mother had to cut down a tree on their property line in order to make room for a second floor. And now a strange boy next door won’t stop staring at her, like she did something wrong moving here in the first place.

As Oak and Alder start school together, they can’t imagine ever becoming friends. But the two of them soon discover a series of connections between them—mysterious, possibly even magical puzzles they can’t put together. At least not without each other’s help.

The third person narration stays close to Alder and Oak throughout the 30 chapters. The character arcs of each are a joy to follow. They won’t realize until the heartwarming ending how much their friendship means. A nice, page turning story for boys and girls.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: March 30, 2021 PAGE COUNT: 288


  1. The parent’s are ever present in each of their child’s life. Kind of refreshing not to have divorce driving the plot.
  2. A beautifully orchestrated cover urging readers to take take a closer look. What could be the meaning with two kittens around a tree stump? A big surprise for sure.
  3. Forget any boy stereotypes as Alder has a hidden passion: knitting. A skill he eventually shares.
  4. A compelling look at the difficulty transition brings to kids. Readers might be saying “I feel the same way” in many of the scenes.
  5. No character is left incomplete. There’s a story behind each and the reveals on both adults and children make the story shine.


ELANA K. ARNOLD is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets. (From Elana’s author web site)


Comments are welcome below and be sure to visit all of today’s MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY blogs.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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  1. I’m intrigued by the magical element of the story. That’s great it tackles issues that kids can relate to. And I love that Alder knits.

  2. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    This sounds like a great story! The cover is definitely beautiful, and I’m curious what’s going on in it. I love Alder’s hobby of knitting—I’ve met a surprising number of people recently who enjoy knitting, so more kids might relate here than I might have expected! And I love that each character gets explored. Thanks so much for the great review!

  3. Jenni says:

    The cover alone is so intriguing. It sounds like it has some clues to the story. I loved Bridge of Terabithia as a kid. I like that it’s about two completely different kids and centered on friendship. And it has knitting! This sounds wonderful!

  4. Love that cover — it looks like the oak stump holds some magic! What a great story about friendship, and it’s refreshing to see that there isn’t a parental divorce or loss. Just moving to a knew neighborhood. Looks like a great summer read that I will check out!

  5. I’ve heard of this book and thought it sounded interesting; now that you’ve compared it to Bridge to Terabithia I will definitely have to check it out. Characters named Oak and Alder and a chopped down walnut tree … I sense some arboreal metaphors going on!

  6. Thanks for this review. This sounds like a book I could really get into. I am also a fan of interested, intact families in middle grade books and friendships that happen even thought the characters don’t gel at first.

  7. This book sounds really, really good. I love The Bridge to Terabithia, so I think I will like this one. I have put it high up on my TBR list and hope to check it out soon. Thanks for telling me about it.

  8. Sounds good! And I do love Bridge to Terabithia… I love the idea of a house that isn’t there anymore.

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