Penni Russon, The Endsister, Allen & Unwin, Feb 2018, 256pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781741750652
In a locked attic in a London house, something long forgotten stirs in the darkness.
Sibbi is a carefree four year old who lives in the Aussie bush with her large, chaotic family. Else is the eldest at sixteen. A talented violinist, she is struggling with self-belief in relation to her music. Clancy is an easygoing nature-lover but has made no real friends at school and gets bullied on the bus. The sporty twins are Finn and Oscar. Their father, Dave, is self employed, fixing fences, and spends a lot of time with Sibbi. Olly, their mother, teaches and is completing a thesis at university. Together they rent a cottage from Aunty May. When Aunty May becomes ill, Dave and Olly worry that they might lose their home, until surprise news that Dave has inherited a mansion in London. They decide to move.
The house in London is being aired in readiness for the new occupants. Almost Annie and Hardly Alice look on with anxious anticipation. They have been attached to the house for so many years they have forgotten why. But they know one important thing – the locked attic must never be opened.
The family members arrive, each with their own hopes and concerns about this new adventure. Dave sees bright possibilities and will once again pursue his business career. Olly seems overwhelmed by the city and buries herself in her studies. Else is drawn back to her music by an elderly violin maker and Clancy makes his first real friend. The twins busy themselves playing outdoors. Sibbi seems lost and left out in this new routine. There is an eerie bond between Sibbi and the house. No one listens or understands when she speaks of the ‘endsister’ or the ghosts. She becomes sullen and angry, paler and thinner. Fed by Sibbi’s resentment, the shadowy entity in the attic awakens and finds a new home in Sibbi’s heart.
This is a compelling read. I was drawn in by the mysterious prologue and entranced by Russon’s poetically descriptive writing. She skillfully captures the essence of place and the real life concerns of her characters’ day to day life, and contrasts this with the supernatural, building an atmosphere of foreboding and page turning suspense. I am intrigued by the multi-narrative storytelling structure – the chapters are devoted to the main characters. Else and Clancy are written in first person so we get an insight into their emotions and reactions to the world. We learn about Sibbi through a narrator who makes observations about how Sibbi feels and thinks. The ghosts, Almost Annie and Hardly Alice are also written in third person omnipotent. I was confused by the plethora of characters at the beginning but soon sorted out the relationships. The main characters are well realised and I was strongly invested in their life experiences. The short, sharp chapters move the action along. I loved the poetic imagery, particularly the way the thing in the attic is described. This is a story as much about family relationships, fitting in and coping with change as it is a mystery. Russon has the ability to charm, amuse and chill her readers and had me enthralled until the end.
Recommended for upper primary and secondary students.
Reviewed by Sharon Seymour