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The House at the End of Hope Street    by Menna van Praag order for
House at the End of Hope Street
by Menna van Praag
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

The House at the End of Hope Street is a magical place where women with creative minds go when they've lost confidence in themselves and don't know where to turn for help. Alba Ashby finds the house while she's in despair over the turn her life has taken. She's been working on her doctorate in history at King's College, Cambridge, and has been betrayed by her supervisor, who has stolen her writing and published it to great acclaim, without giving Alba any credit.

Not only that, but the supervisor, Dr. Skinner, has told her that she will no longer be her supervisor and will not recommend her to any other professor. Alba is only nineteen, without a loving family to help her through her crisis and is in shock, 'constantly tripping over pavement edges, falling down steps, and walking into walls.' When she finds herself approaching the big, old house, she doesn't realize how she got there and doesn't remember even seeing the house before, but when she knocks, she's welcomed by Peggy, the old lady who lives there.

The house is alive, and Alba soon meets the other two distraught young women who have been taken in, Greer and Carmen. The stories of these three are interwoven with Peggy's story. However we learn more about Alba and her family members, since Alba remains the main character. Pictures of women, most of whom were famous in their day, cover the walls, and after Alba has been staying there for a short time, the women in the pictures start to talk to her.

The advice and other comments from these women are frequently amusing, although Alba doesn't care for what they are saying to her. She also starts to get little written messages that float down to her from the ceiling, and is annoyed by these almost as much as by what the women in the pictures say. One day she finds that her room has been transformed into a wonderful library, with all the books she loves filling the shelves. She becomes so happy and calm in her cozy room and in the welcoming house that she has to be tricked into leaving.

There's a ghost named Stella living in the kitchen, sitting cross-legged in the sink, who becomes her friend, which for Alba is amazing. She has never had a real friend. Even her older sister and brothers act like she was an unwelcome addition to the family, who can never really be close to them. Her father has disappeared and her mother is mentally unbalanced and hasn't lived at home since Alba was seven years old, when her mother was institutionalized. The other girls at the boarding school where she was sent never accepted her. Stella's friendship gives her the courage to begin to reach out to other people and to start to live her life in a more fulfilling way.

This is a delightful story. For readers who might not know who all of the famous women in the pictures are, there are vignettes at the end of the book, giving their dates and just enough information to link them to Alba and the other characters in the book. In addition to being able, sometimes, to see and talk to ghosts, Alba also sees colors where most people would not see them, and the colors and their meanings are also listed at the end. Alba's story is full of surprises and love in all its incarnations.

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