Title: The Endsister
Author: Penni Russon
Genre: Children’s Literature
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 24th January 2018
Synopsis: Unforgettable characters, chaotic family life and an intriguing ghost story combine in this funny, absorbing tale of a family who inherit a mansion on the other side of the world.
‘I know what an endsister is,’ says Sibbi again.
We are endsisters, Else thinks, Sibbi and I.
Bookends, oldest and youngest, with the three boys sandwiched in between.
Meet the Outhwaite children. There’s teenage Else, the violinist who abandons her violin. There’s nature-loving Clancy. There’s the inseparable twins, Oscar-and-Finn, Finn-and-Oscar. And then there is Sibbi, the baby of the family. They all live contentedly squabbling in a cottage surrounded by trees and possums…until a letter arrives to say they have inherited the old family home in London.
Outhwaite House is full of old shadows and new possibilities. The boys quickly find their feet in London, and Else is hoping to reinvent herself. But Sibbi is misbehaving, growing thinner and paler by the day, and she won’t stop talking about the mysterious endsister. Meanwhile Almost Annie and Hardly Alice, the resident ghosts, are tied to the house for reasons they have long forgotten, watching the world around them change, but never leaving.
The one thing they all agree on – the living and the dead – is never, ever to open the attic door…
Moving to London is the last thing Else, and her siblings, Clancy, Oscar, Finn and Sibbi want to do. Mum, or Olly as Else calls her, doesn’t want to either. But when their father, Dave, inherits an old family home, Outhwaite House, in London, the entire family is uprooted from their little cottage surrounded by rolling hills and kangaroos, and taken away from all that is familiar. Else, the oldest of the five children, is the most resistant and rebellious, purposely leaving a much-loved violin behind, feeling stuck in everything. Clancy is in love with nature, and finds a neighbour, Pippa, to share this with, and it seems that the twins fit in, whilst Dad is out every day and Mum is too busy for Sibbi. For Sibbi, the youngest, it seems everyone is too busy for her, and she slowly becomes paler and thinner, and speaks of ghosts. Two ghosts, Almost Annie, and Hardly Alice, have been tied to the house since their deaths in Edwardian and Victorian times, unsure of what keeps them there, and watching the changes in the world pass them by. If there is one thing that the living and the dead agree on: Don’t open the attic door.
The Endsister is part mystery, part ghost story and partly a story about finding yourself and staying true to who you are, and where you belong in the world. Inspired by Penni Russon’s children and stories of her father being a ten-pound Pom in the sixties, this exciting and fantastic book is told from several perspectives, two in first person and two in third person. Else and Clancy tell their experiences in first person, the stark contrast of Else struggling to fit in and find her place against Clancy’s ease at making the move and making friends a reminder of how we all react to change differently and in our own way. The twins, Olly and Dave are almost peripheral characters who pop in and out as needed. The third person perspectives are taken by Almost Annie, Hardly Alice and Sibbi. Almost Annie and Hardly Alice share their chapters, trapped together as observers of the lives of the living, whilst Sibbi, as a four-year-old, shows us the world through the eyes of a child that age, and the effects that the house is having on her, and what the endsister is doing to her, or so she keeps trying to explain to everyone.
Within each perspective, the history of the house, family and the people the characters are, were and will become are slowly revealed, whilst keeping up a good pace at the same time to ensure the intrigue and desire to keep reading remains. The mystery of what is in the attic, and what is happening to the family drive the story through to the conclusion that seems to race at the reader, whilst climbing to the climactic crescendo in short, dramatic scenes that work for this section of the book. As each chapter is a different length, reflecting the age, personality and mood of that specific character, this contributes to the ease of flow throughout the novel and the magic of the words creating distinct personalities for Else, Clancy, Sibbi, Almost Annie and Hardly Alice.
It was such fun meeting these characters and exploring London and the Outhwaite House with them, and it ended in a positive and lovely way that brought a smile to my face and stayed true to the characters throughout the novel. A great read for younger and middle-grade readers, and anyone who enjoys a good story.