Title: Palace Beautiful
Author: Sarah DeFord Williams
From GoodReads, "When sisters Sadie and Zuzu Brooks move to Salt Lake City, they discover a secret room in the attic of their new house, with a sign that reads “Palace Beautiful” and containing an old journal. Along with their neighbor, dramatic Belladonna Desolation (real name: Kristin Smith), they take turns reading the story of a girl named Helen living during the flu epidemic of 1918. The journal ends with a tragedy that has a scary parallel to Sadie and Zuzu’s lives, and the girls become obsessed with finding out what happened to Helen after the journal ends. Did she survive the flu? Is she still alive somewhere? Or could her ghost be lurking in the nearby graveyard?"
I'm going to begin this review with one little word that means so much when referring to this book, WOW! I stayed up into the wee hours of the night just so I could finish this terrific, thought-provoking, expertly written novel.
I loved this book so much that I'm not sure that I can due it justice in a paragraph or two. This is the story of two girls, Sadie and her next door neighbor Bella, who discover a diary hidden in a secret room in Sadie's attic. The diary is written by a girl named Helen that is about the same age as Sadie and Bella, but from almost seventy years earlier. I have never been a fan of books that go back and forth between time periods, but this one is so well-written that it is fluent. I really appreciated that author, Sarah DeFord Williams, didn't hold anything back just because this is a middle grades novel and I'm sure that kids will appreciate that about this book as well. I also loved the characters in this book, especially Zuzu, Sadie's younger, temper-tantrum throwing sister. I've never had a sister, but I liked the relationship that these girls had one minute annoyed with each other, the next best friends. I can imagine that this is the way real sisters interact. I also really like the character of Bella, the flamboyant, artistic, next-door neighbor of Sadie. Her struggles with her mother and finding a place where she could be herself were some of the best parts about this book and there were a lot of great parts. I also liked how Williams made a connection between the girls that were one focus of the story and Helen's family that were the other focus of the story. This book was so beautifully crafted that the climax of the story will have you holding your breath wanting to read more. (Thus, the reason I was up so late!)
I learned so much about the influenza epidemic of 1918 just by reading that it made me want to know more, which is a big feat as I am not normally a fan of historical fiction. This book should be on several state and national awards lists as it truly is a remarkable read.