This review contains SPOILERS and is intended for parents.
The Way In is a great start to what will presumably continue as an 88 Lime Street series, although there is very little information on any follow up books. Beginning as a standard-fare haunted house story, the plot twists into more of a time-slip adventure with some big scares unsuitable for young or sensitive readers. It’s a bit Indiana(s)-Jones-for-teens with booby traps and hazards.
The Brewster family move into an enormous mansion with only Mr Brewster having had the opportunity to see the house prior to purchase. The rest of the family have to adjust to a strange new home on top of a big move away from their friends and community, and things don’t go so well for protagonist Ellen, the middle child. The neighbourhood kids and others at the local school are obsessed with the rumours of 88 Lime Street being haunted, but their associated fixation with Ellen, simply because she now lives there, takes a malicious turn and she is a victim of their taunts, pranks, and even cyber-bullying.
Taking Ellen’s mind off her tormentors, however, is a mystery presented to the Brewsters when they moved in: one of the towers of the mansion is completely inaccessible. While the rest of the family lose interest and shrug it off as another quirk of their bizarre home, Ellen alone continues to study the layout of the house and attempts to find the way in to the tower. Then Ellen begins seeing things: water in a long-broken fountain, mysterious figures at windows of empty rooms, messages appearing in the steam of the bathroom mirror. And she finds random broken pieces of toys.
Gradually, ingeniously following the clues and getting the timing just right, Ellen is lead to what was previously a blank wall panel, but now has a set of indentations that match up with each of the broken toys. When Ellen adds her own contribution, magic happens. The entrance to the tower is revealed and Ellen’s adventure begins.
It is once Ellen finds the way in that the story really shines. At the top of the tower, Ellen meets five other children like herself who were intrigued by the sealed away tower, who investigated relentlessly, and who also found their way in. They are all confounded by the situation, until they begin talking to each other and discover that they are each from different time periods. Ellen is the most recent occupant of 88 Lime Street to discover the tower; the other children are the house’s residents from different eras in the past.
Over several more clandestine meetings, the group form a strong bond – and they are nicely balanced with three boys and three girls and a range of personalities, backgrounds, ethnicity, and abilities. At first they simply have fun – the past-children’s introduction to computers and the internet is hilarious. But eventually they work out that something is wrong with their time-travelling house, and they must solve a series of puzzles, venturing into a dangerous labyrinth to fix a problem they caused inadvertently. This part includes a nail-bitingly terrifying death-trap scene involving a razor-sharp sentient plant with tendrils that multiply when cut. But the differing skills and teamwork of the children is brought in very satisfyingly to help them escape the trap.
88 Lime Street is a story that will be enjoyed by kids (and adults) who love solving puzzles or with an interest in history. Readers expecting a spooky ghost story might be disappointed, but the end result is a far richer multi-layered tale of friendship, bravery, and ingenuity.