This book where Little Orphan Annie meets the Superhero universe is a book that makes me feel like a little kid again. I’ve always enjoyed superhero films and this is the perfect middle grade novel that draws on both that genre and Ally Carter’s experience writing the YA Gallagher Girls spycraft and teenagers series.
Imagine in the years Bruce Wayne went wandering and brooding or Oliver Queen or Tony Stark were missing that those left behind had opened up the sprawling family mansion to a group of orphans including our red headed protagonist April, a Engineering wannabe, the left behind son of a grifter, an artistic selective mute with breathing issues and her tag along tough boy protector who are seemingly unconnected but gifted in their own ways but as always in these tales there is something dark brewing behind the scenes.
And OH MY GOODNESS it’s GOOD.
April is waiting for her mum. She’s been waiting since she was a toddler, she doesn’t even know her birthday but mum said she would be back for her. In the meantime shunted from foster home to foster home April has two things, the will to survive and an oddly crested key her mother left with her.
When she discovers the key matches the prestigious but tragic Winterbourne family crest, the heir Gabriel Winterbourne is the sole survivor of a terrible tragedy who went missing almost ten years ago leaving his uncle and a foundation caretakers of the substantial fortune & business legacy.
That night she breaks into a museum to find out more but due to a fire wakes up in a hospital where a lady is telling her she is now going to live at Winterbourne along with other orphans and be home educated there. April is both intrigued and suspicious of why anyone would be interested in her and as she arrives at the home things begin to be much more than they seem.
she didn’t know which way to go but forward…That’s the thing about fear, April had learned a long time ago. sometimes the scariest thing of all is standing still.
April’s loneliness and determination that she will be collected one day because she was left with a necklace and a note (I’m singing songs from Annie in my head!) drives suspicions and rejection of their kindness and investment, letting slip that this may be because she has never had anyone be nice to her just because, that there is always an agenda, amalgamates to create this constant sense of distrust and unease is brilliant for building tension took discover the truth and who to trust.
The constantly raining coastal castle setting works really well to evoke the moody petrichor and brooding aesthetic that we have seen in the DC universe since the Christopher Nolan era but is appropriately tempered down for kids so we have this classic middle grade mystery adventure within a comic book setting that will appeal on so many levels.
For children who love superhero tales, may want to/do watch tv superhero shows such as Arrow or love the idea of being recruited to Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters or wish they could watch The Umbrella Academy but of course they don’t have superpowers, this speaks to the kids without superpowers who wish they could still be superheroes based on their talents (kinda like Batman, Arrow or even Iron Man himself. I 💜 you 3000)
as her vision filled with stars and she drifted off to sleep, one thought filled her mind: I thought he’d be taller.
A personal glow from this book is the fact it features and respects Home educated kids instead of making them out to be weird or needing care intervention. Whilst not suitable or a possibility for all children, its nice to see positive representation and the children at Winterbourne are nurtured in their own talents and interests but with high expectation of dedication and achievement of academic rigour including additional languages.
Ms Nelson knows how to reach each child’s potential for example she knows to challenge Colin to rewriting an essay in French, whilst to encourage Sadie to experiment and build her inventions and to offer praise for her efforts even if they don’t go to plan.
This is a superhero origin story and it is SUCH a good one!! There’s lots of layering and careful setting up for future books and oh we NEED future books for this one. And yes I am totally geeking out here.
Oh my god and that TWIST!!!!! I NEED book 2!!!!!!
Winterbourne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter is published by Orchard Books