Watch Hollow by Gregory Funaro
Gregory Funaro’s just-published Watch Hollow (2019) is a charmingly spooky (or perhaps spookily charming) contemporary fantasy featuring an 11-year-old girl, Lucy Tinker, her 13-year-old brother Oliver, and their clockmaker father … and also a fearsome giant, a boy who mysteriously appears and disappears, and a full dozen magical talking animals sure to warm the hearts of middle grade readers.
After a brief prologue with a heart-stopping chase involving the giant, a traitorous crow, and a rat named Fennish Seven, the story shifts to our main characters, Lucy and her brother Oliver. Between their mother’s death from cancer two years earlier and their father’s lack of business acumen, the Tinker family is teetering on the brink of financial disaster. So it feels like a huge windfall when a stranger, Mr. Quigley, appears in Tinker’s Clock Shop and offers Mr. Tinker a fortune in gold coins to come to Quigley’s old, abandoned mansion, Blackford House, deep in the woods in Rhode Island, and fix a huge clock that’s built into the home and is the source of electrical power for the home. To sweeten the deal, Lucy and Oliver are invited along.
The Tinker family finds Blackford House an ominous place, dingy and dilapidated, with black twisted trees pressing in on every side. The broken clock is ten feet in diameter, with twelve animal-shaped holes where the numbers on the face of the clock would normally appear. Lucy finds two wooden statues of a snarling cat and a cute little dog that are the perfect size to fit in the clock face, but the animals’ positions are the wrong shape. The answer to that mystery is explained (at least in part) that night, when the wooden dog turns into a real one and begs Lucy for her help. Blackford House is sentient but weakened by an evil giant called the Garr who lurks in the woods. The house, its magical clock and animals, and even the Tinkers themselves are in danger.
Watch Hollow is an appealing magical adventure with just enough tension and creepiness to keep things exciting for younger readers. Both boys and girls will find the Tinker siblings sympathetic; they’re well-rounded characters with both strengths, like their courage and love, and problems, like Lucy’s tendency to get in fights with a bullying classmate and Oliver’s anxiety about his acne. The animal characters are also delightful, with some distinct personalities. Torsten Six, the little dog, is anxious but loving and eager to trust; Meridian the cat is far more suspicious of the Tinker family.
Funaro’s writing has improved noticeably since he wrote his first middle grade novels a few years ago, Alistair Grim’s Odditorium and Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum. While Watch Hollow isn’t quite as crazily fantastical as those books, I found Watch Hollow more coherent in its plot, with improved flow and characterization. Funaro still occasionally does some telling rather than showing, but overall the plot flows well, with enough depth and interesting details to keep the reader engaged.
Everything here was designed to work together in perfect balance ― sunstone and shadow wood, light and dark, day and night. For in such balance there is potent magic.
Watch Hollow is the type of book that would lend itself to reading aloud to younger children, as well as being given to middle grade readers who love fantasy, animals, or both. The story ends on an open note (not a cliffhanger, thankfully), with a second book, The Alchemist’s Shadow, expected in early 2020. I look forward to the further adventures of Lucy and Oliver.
This does sound charming!
It’s definitely right in the middle grade pocket, but if you’re ever in the mood for that kind of read, give it a shot!