Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Released: May 13, 2014
Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians have gathered at the Bellweather for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a blizzard is threatening to trap them all inside. When a young prodigy disappears from infamous room 712, the search for her entwines an eccentric cast of conductors and caretakers, teenagers on the verge and adults haunted by memories. This is a genre-bending page-turner, full of playful nods to pop-culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee.
I didn’t find this book to be anything like what it’s like. For me it wasn’t really a case of the book being greater than the sum of it’s parts, the parts just fit together to make something in which the parts themselves aren’t really visible.
The plot: Take a hotel, a hotel in which a murder/suicide happened once upon a time. Sprinkle the hotel with a bunch of teen orchestra-geeks, as well as a handful of adults who are parodies of the characters they represent. Add some teen angst and contrivances, and you have this book. Strangely, I found it to be fantastic.
It took me some time to get into this one. For quite a while it reads like a novel which I’m probably a decade or so too old to appreciate. Gradually things start getting a little strange. Then things get very strange. Before I really realised what had happened the tone of the book had turned from young adult fiction to what I think can best be described as an absurd, gripping, mystery. Normally I find it annoying when books throw plausibility to the wind: what’s the point in getting engaged in a story where the rules can change at any time? Where is the thrill of a situation if I know it can be resolved at any time by some out-there contrivance? With this book it was different. Instead of feeling like a lazy way of making stuff happen, the absurdity in itself became the thrill and drove the plot. It created an atmosphere of uncertainty about what was really happening, about what was real or not. The book also has some brilliant characters. Some characters are completely exposed, you get to know exactly what they feel and what they think, yet there always seemed to be plenty of extra information easily readable between the lines. The characters experience situations, and each other, in very different ways, adding to the general uncertainty and ambiguity of what was actually going on. For me this worked very well.
I’m almost surprised this book is as highly rated as it is. There are a lot of reasons to dislike this book, and I’m not sure how strongly I’d recommend it. It’s different in a way which I imagine either works or doesn’t, and I wouldn’t say that anyone was wrong for not liking it. For me it worked very well. I found it to be effortlessly funny and charming, and it left me with a rare combination of thinking “wow, so… that all just happened”, while also feeling perfectly content.