Title: House of Glass Hearts
Author: Leila Siddiqui
Genres: Historical Fiction, SciFi/Fantasy
Publisher: Yali Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: Maera and her ammi never talk about the Past, a place where they’ve banished their family’s heartache and grief forever. They especially never mention the night Maera’s older brother Asad disappeared from her naana’s house in Karachi ten years ago. But when her grandfather dies and his derelict greenhouse appears in her backyard from thousands of miles away, Maera is forced to confront the horrors of her grandfather’s past. To find out what happened to her brother, she must face the keepers of her family’s secrets-the monsters that live inside her grandfather’s mysterious house of glass.
Seamlessly blending history with myth, HOUSE OF GLASS HEARTS follows a Pakistani-American teen’s ruthless quest to find her missing sibling, even if the truth would reveal her grandfather’s devastating secret and tear her family apart. In a narrative that switches between colonial India and present-day America, this ambitious debut explores how the horrors of the past continue to shape the lives of South Asians around the world.
Review: I really wanted to enjoy this story as when I read the premise I was all in. A mysterious glass house, a grandfather’s secret, and a dual narrative story is completely my jam. Unfortunately what prevented me from really enjoying this story was the writing. Obviously when writing a dual narrative, especially here where one narrative is in the past and the other present, a writer wants to establish two different tones, and I feel Siddiqui pulled this off. I was drawn into Maera’s grandfather’s story that accounts the events that led up to India and Pakistan becoming two countries and the ugliness that came with it. Maera’s narrative, on the other hand, fell flat to me. Siddiqui took her time and care with crafting Haroon’s (Maera’s grandpa) story but didn’t give the same attention to Maera’s. There were many times during Maera’s chapters that I feel like Siddiqui could have slowed down the narrative, allow us to really feel Maera’s emotions to solving the mystery of her grandfather’s glasshouse. In addition, there were parts of Maera’s story that jumped around and didn’t make sense. I actually checked whether I had accidentally skipped a page, but I hadn’t. I know that ARCs are not finished books, so I hope that in the final printing, mistakes such as those are corrected.
All that being said, the horror parts, specifically the churails – women who have come back from the dead after dying in a brutal manner, were really well done. Haroon and Shah Jahan were rightfully afraid of them but did not look down on them. Both children showed such compassion to the churials, but they were scary at parts. When Haroon and his family flee from India to Pakistan, Siddiqui does not hold back on the terror that they faced during their travels. It brings to light a devastating moment in history that many do not know about. Haroon’s story is so beautifully told that in the Maera parts where to her his is “the antagonist”, I couldn’t find him “evil” at all. Maera learns her grandfather’s story through the reading of a journal from her cousin Jamal/Jimmy, but at no point does she have an empathy for him and what he experienced. It is a tale of history lost from Maera’s perspective and she has every right to be angry at the elders in her family for keeping this history from her, but I feel like she could have grown and changed as she learned new information. And that is why Maera fell flat to me because she didn’t change, while my impression of Haroon went from one of not liking the creepy grandfather to completely understanding how he became the man he was. After a while, even the glasshouse didn’t seem creepy to me and I didn’t connect to Maera’s fear of the house.
Overall, House of Glass Hearts had a lot of promise and I clearly could see the potential for this “horror” story to be a hit. Unfortunately the story felt rushed and did not fully hit all the emotional points it could have.