Josh Peshik’s family has to move and when the realtor shows Josh’s parents the Tilton House, which was built to tilt exactly three degrees, his father falls in love with the scribbling all over the walls and the potential discoveries that could be made. Josh and his brother are far less convinced and soon they find out that the house is full of mysteries from the past, as well as a few talking rats and crazy neighbors.
I don’t remember exactly how this book ended up on my to read list, but I got it out recently and read it in an afternoon. It’s a slight book, only 160 pages. While I generally agree that many books come across as bloated, this is one instance in which I personally felt that there actually could have been more, both in terms of the story and the writing. This shows in two places, one of which may simply be a stylistic choice and one of which comes across as more of a fault in the writing.
The first instance is in regard to the fantastic elements–Mr. Daga the talking rat, for instance. These elements are simply placed in the story with no explanation or reaction from the main characters. The world seems like it’s supposed to be ours, but apparently one in which both adults and children (at least, Mr. Peshik and his sons) find a family of talking rats in their attic and are not at all taken aback, apart from an initial startlement. I would usually expect a story where a kid in our world discovers magic to result in at least some soul-searching or questioning about why and how, and what the implications are. Llewellyn may simply be doing something entirely different here, creating a story where the fantastic is just there, like the tilting house and the crazy neighbors. I’m not absolutely sure that he’s succeeded, simply because there’s so little reaction that it almost becomes problematic. Then again, that may be because my sense of how a narrative ought to go is simply offended. What I’m trying to get at here is that I’m still not exactly sure whether my reaction is a fault in the book, or my reading of it.
In the second instance, I’m more comfortable saying that the book is simply a bit lacking. This lies in the fact that we are again and again told rather than shown. Now, I think this writing rule is often way over emphasized–any good book will have a certain amount of telling in it and should (I was startled during one of my periodic Megan Whalen Turner rereads to realize just how much she tells us rather than shows us). However, it’s also a rule for a reason, which is that when readers are told things instead of being shown them, we have no chance to enter into the characters’ emotions and reactions. If you tell me, “Josh felt annoyed,” I go, “All right–but why should I care?” I unfortunately have returned The Tilting House, so I don’t have specific examples, but there were a lot of them, and they tipped the balance of the book from compressed into frustratingly absent.
This, combined with the fact that the characters never quite worked aside from the odd neighbor aspect, makes me say that The Tilting House has a fine and slightly eerie premise which would have benefited from some expansion and character development.
Book source: public library
Book information: Tricycle Press, 2010; middle grade