I picked up The Water Castle because of its intriguing premise (and admittedly because it was written by a fellow children’s librarian). Three siblings, Ephraim, Price, and Brynn, have been uprooted from their New York home when their father suffers a crippling stroke. Their mother, Dr. Appledore, decides to move her family to her ancestral Maine home, the so-called Water Castle, for her husband’s medical treatment. Although it begins sadly, this is a hopeful tale which blends science and magic, and has plenty of mystery.
Crystal Springs, Maine, is not an ordinary town. Ephraim Appledore immediately begins to notice that his classmates are extraordinarily fast, strong, and intelligent. Even his brother and sister seem to get better at everything as soon as they begin drinking the water. The question is, what is in the water? The town’s namesake (the spring) is rumored to have healing properties, and local folklore has it that the town is home to the fountain of youth. When Ephraim finds out about the legendary curative properties of the water, he resolves to find the fountain to help his father. From then on, Ephraim and his unlikely friends from school (all of whom have a historical connection to the Water Castle) set off to find the fabled fountain of youth. Meanwhile, Ephraim and his siblings struggle to come to terms with their father’s illness in their own very believable ways. The friendships that Ephraim forges with Mallory (the descendant of the Water Castle’s caretakers), and Will (whose family has a long-standing feud with Ephraim’s), are sweet, and made more genuine by the struggles of the individual characters to come to terms with their own family histories.
The Water Castle wraps adventure and mystery into an intriguing story which draws on the past through the journal of one of Mallory’s ancestors, Nora. There are a lot of questions to be answered in this story, and it will appeal to kids who have a keen eye for detail and who enjoy a good mystery. The rich history that Megan Frazer Blakemore creates through parallel generations is quite impressive, and the exciting twists and turns left me wanting to go back to figure out what really happened. I also loved the Water Castle itself: a labyrinth of an old house which has the sort of passageways and secret rooms that would be magical to discover. This is an ambitious story that weaves together many things very well. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and middle-grade readers will too.