Before the Masons moved in, the house belonged to 11-year-old Elise and her parents. To Elise’s dismay, her family had moved out of the house and into a newer home where, she observes, their furniture looked out of place. A couple of months later, she was orphaned by a tragic automobile accident that she miraculously survived.
Courtesy of Harper Collins
“Home’s where you’re loved,” Elise is told on her first day in foster care. So that’s where she goes. Late one night, she escapes through a window and walks back to the place where she was last happy — the residence now occupied by the Masons. There she builds a life within the house’s in-between spaces — under floorboards in the attic, in a closed-off laundry chute, inside the walls. And when the Masons are at work and school or church, she ventures into the rooms, rummaging for food in the pantry, watching TV in the library and taking books from Eddie’s bedroom.
Of all the Masons, Elise likes Eddie best. “Before, when Elise went to school, she knew of strange boys like him. So often they sat in the back corner of class, ignored, until those times during presentations when they were required to stand before the chalkboard and show, fully, how different they really were.”
Eventually, Eddie grows aware of Elise’s presence in the house. At first, it’s just an intuition that he’s being watched, but then telltale signs become apparent like his missing books and a minor addition to his Lego castle. He keeps quiet about it, though, until Marshall arrives at the same conclusion: They are not alone.
When their parents refuse to believe their sons’ suspicions, the boys bond in their effort to find the interloper on their own. But Marshall takes things too far when he enlists the help of a man he finds on the internet who volunteers to flush the intruder out when the parents are out of town one weekend.
Mr. Traust is an unforgettable villain whose epic aggression and monstrous acts evoke iconic literary bad guys like Callanwolde in Pat Conroy’s “The Prince of Tides.” He’s also reminiscent of the outsized characters Elise reads about in Eddie’s book on Norse mythology.
Elise had come to expect bad news to come in threes, and sure enough, a trio of horrific events occur that threaten her life. During the course of these trials, she comes to terms with some life lessons, including the realization that she can’t hide forever from the unpleasant aspects of life. “Maybe this was aging, growing up. … A progression of hells, of fires and storms that make the world seem less and less like the one you thought you knew.”
And during a moment of delirium, the image of the Norse god Odin gives her some sage advice on grieving her parents: “(Y)ou’ll never stop missing them. No matter where you are, how old you are. But hurt gets softer. Quieter, I think. You’ll be an old woman, and you’ll still hold them in that hurt.”
Laura confronts some harsh realities, too. Despite her efforts to protect her home and family with an elaborate alarm system, she realizes that security is ultimately an illusion. She also recognizes her failing as a mother. With shame, she tells Nick they are both guilty of ignoring their children. In that way, “Girl in the Walls” is the story of three parentless children left to fend for themselves in a capricious world.
“Girl in the Walls”
by A.J. Gnuse
336 pages, $27.99