I received a copy of this book from Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Brightwood is a middle grade novel written by Tania Unsworth. This was originally published under the title The Secret Life of Daisy Fitzjohn, but the name was changed for the American edition.
Daisy Fitzjohn is a young girl living in a manor house in England. Her life is quite unconventional. To begin with, she has never left Brightwood Hall; this is a modern story, so never having left her house is unusual. Daisy has wondered about the outside world, but she is content to remain at home while her mother leaves the house for provisions. And if being isolated from the outside world was not enough, it is immediately clear that Daisy’s mother is a hoarder. Daisy is unfazed by the unconventional lifestyle; after all, she doesn’t know that anything is amiss. She is content to converse with her friends, like the rat named Tar and a topiary horse.
But one day, Daisy’s mother does not return from her errands. Instead, a stranger arrives and wants to know more about her family and the house. Daisy is wary, and doesn’t know if she should trust him. He refuses to leave, and Daisy knows that she is going to have to be braver than she ever has been. Luckily, she has Tar to help her, as well as a plucky ghost girl named Frank.
Brightwood is an amazing book. Unsworth does such a wonderful job of conjuring up a dilapidated manor house and a little girl who knows nothing of what lies beyond the gates of her home. I am reluctant to compare Brightwood to other books with children who have never been exposed to the outside world because those books usually involve abusive situations. Daisy’s mother is not abusive; the prologue provides us with the reason for Daisy’s mother’s obsession with order and rituals, and it is so bittersweet to see the physical manifestation of her family’s trauma. It is actually quite amazing to see how well adjusted Daisy is, given the circumstances.
I would absolutely recommend Brightwood. This is an eerie thriller, perfectly suited for middle grade readers. Daisy is such an interesting narrator, and I loved watching her interact with the various “personalities” on the estate. Even though she is surrounded by a familiar environment, she finds herself out of her element for the first time in her life. She needs to be clever and brave and to use instincts that she never has had any reason to use. Watching her process her thoughts and emotions when faced with this stranger was fascinating. My nine-year-old daughter is currently reading Brightwood, and she loves it; so far, Tar the rat is her favorite. I can’t wait to discuss it with her, and we are both looking forward to reading more from Tania Unsworth!