The Hotel Between
by Sean Easley
Recommended Ages: 11+
One day, while taking a shortcut home from school, Cam sees something odd going on at a depressed neighborhood strip mall. A door opens and behind it, he glimpses something impossible – a huge interior with arches and corridors and staircases stretching into the distance in all directions. A boy dressed as a bellman sneaks him in, and Cam begins an adventure in a hotel that has doors leading to places all over the world.
Cam soon learns to suspect that this place had something to do with his father's disappearance, and he allows himself to be recruited into a conspiracy to uncover the secrets of the Hotel Between. But then he starts to feel confused about whom he should and shouldn't trust. Treachery is afoot. The magical tree that gives life to the whole Hotel hasn't been seen since the day his mom died and his dad disappeared. A museum curator known within the Hotel as the Competition, and to Cam personally as Mr. Stripe, has a mysterious agenda. So, for that matter, does Mr. Agapios, the Old Man who runs the Hotel. It seems to have something to do with stealing groups of children from all over the world. But what happens to them? And what became of the tree?
As Cameron slowly gets closer to figuring out what happened to his parents – partly thanks to dreams coming to him through his father's coin – the stakes get bigger and more dangerous. The whole Hotel is in danger of falling apart. Its staff and the Competition both bristle with strange tools and weapons – from dusters that can make things stick together to a key that can blow things to smithereens; door hinges that create magical connections between faraway places and written contracts that can turn anyone, even Cameron, into an unwitting tool of the enemy.
This debut novel by a Texan author has a sequel, The Key of Lost Things. It shows tremendous promise, brimming with strange magic, touching humanity and an evident belief that the world can and must change into a kinder, safer place for children. Cameron is a flawed and confused kid, but his flaws and confusion will go to your heart, as will his relationships with many other characters in this story. While he's still finding out what's really going on and who stands on which side of it, you'll share in lots of surprises, some of them quite terrible. But the most wonderful surprise is what Cameron does with his knowledge once he does figure all that out.
Funny, thrilling, moving, with a socially relevant message that hints at mysterious depths but doesn't quite cross the line into tedious preachiness, it's a neat book that I think could appeal especially to fans of Narnia, Earthsea, Susan Cooper and Diana Wynne Jones.