In The House on the Gulf, 16-year-old Bran thinks he has the solution to all his family’s problems. His mother wants to be a doctor and has struggled to obtain her high school diploma part time in order to enter university but the reality of that dream is a long way off. Until Bran tells her about a scholarship programme Gulfstone University in Florida has for single mothers. At first, she and Bran’s 12-year-old sister, Britt, are skeptical but Bran has worked everything out. However, things don’t work out quite the way they thought. The only place they can afford to live, they hear fighting through the walls and even gunshots. Britt has trouble making friends at school, and her mother’s efforts to study and hold down a job put a strain on the family. Bran comes to the rescue again. He has a job cutting the lawn for an elderly couple who spend their summers in New York City. When he comes home and says he’s been asked to house-sit as well as cutting the lawn, and they all can move to a safer environment, it all seems too good to be true. And before they even move in, Britt begins to suspect there’s something terribly wrong with Bran’s plan.
This is a wonderfully insightful and believable story about a responsible boy who tries to make everything right for his family but goes about it the wrong way. It explores compassion, empathy, morality, and faith as young Britt discovers the truth and struggles with what to do. In the end, it is her resourcefulness — born out of boredom — that enables her to forge friendships with her elderly neighbours, which in turn offers an inspired solution to the dicey situation. Many surprises along the way. Lots of possibilities for discussions make this an interesting story for a classroom setting or for a family read. Who is the real hero of the story? Another good question for discussion. Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of the Shadow Children series and The Missing. The House on the Gulf is a great read for intermediates or high school aged children. * * * *