Sarah had never seen Amber House, the family estate until her family traveled to Maryland in order to sell it. The house has been in the family for three hundred years, but Sarah doesn’t care – that is, until she starts seeing visions of its past. It turns out the women of Amber House have the gift of seeing the home’s echoes, and not all of them are moments for which the family would like to be remembered.
Despite her fear, the lure of hidden diamonds keeps Sarah at Amber House, digging to uncover its secrets. As her family gets closer to selling the estate, Sarah becomes more attached, desperate to save her family’s heritage. But when her little brother gets trapped in the in-between world of spirits and memories, Sarah realizes her family heritage is darker than she had ever imagined.
Filled with beautiful imagery, Amber House is a delight from beginning to end. The constant unraveling of numerous mysteries is complemented by the troubles of a normal teenage girl—parental discord, family drama, and a sprinkle of romance that complements the story while not becoming overbearing. In a surprising feat, the main and supporting cast of characters are all well-developed, creating a story full of people to root and long for.
While this story has a fair amount of violence, it is not graphically described. For a young adult novel, the sexual content and language are also refreshingly mild. The book is a must-read because of the well-developed cast, beautiful imagery, and a delectably unique storyline. Also, the main character, Sarah, is extremely likable. Overall, Amber House is a joy to read and it leaves readers desperately hoping the sequel can live up to its predecessor’s impressive feat.
- Sarah’s dad cheated on her mother before the start of the book. “He’d gotten a little too close to Sammy’s overly friendly pediatrician back in Seattle.”
- It’s mentioned in passing that the founder of John Hopkins Hospital “fell in love with his first cousin, Elizabeth” and that neither one “of this tragic pair ever got married.”
- Sarah idly flips through a magazine and sees a Cosmo article titled, “Ten Spicy Ways to Do It in the Summer!”
- At a party, Sarah follows Kathryn “up the carpeted steps, her nearly naked bottom exactly two steps up and directly in front of my face. No cellulite, I noted.”
- Sarah and Richard kiss several times. “He leaned over, put his finger under my chin. He hesitated a moment, then gave me the softest kiss. I liked it. I liked it a lot.”
- Richard’s friends go swimming in their underwear. Sarah sits on the side and watches. “Chad stopped undressing when he got down to his boxers. He took a running jump and cannonballed into the pool. Kathryn—now in nothing but a matching bra and panty set—followed.”
- Sarah’s mom thinks the senator wants something from her. “He may be looking for a – companion. . . Or maybe he’s more ambitious. He’s single, I’m newly wealthy, and he doesn’t seem to like it much when your father is around.”
- Sarah sees a man and woman kissing in a vision, but the woman seems to see Sarah too. “‘You’re watching, aren’t you?’ she said. ‘What, honey?’ the man said, not stopping, slipping the shoulder of Fiona’s dress down to reveal bare skin. ‘It’s all right,’ she said to the door—to me. ‘Sometimes I watch too.’”
- Sarah sends her best friend an email. “You will not believe where I am. . .in the bedroom of the Abercrombie model…and no, we’re not doing anything except picking up some party clothes, you filthy-minded hussy.”
- Sarah and Richard kiss in the garden. “He kissed me again, harder, more urgently, his hands folding my face, and I found myself kissing him hungrily, my fingers in his hair.”
- Jackson tells the story of a “car accident when I was three. Burned me pretty bad all over my left side. . . got a head injury and a few broken ribs, but I survived. My parents didn’t.”
- Sarah sees a young girl trying to drown a baby in a vision. “Oh, God. Two little fists flailing; the dark curls on the top of a small head submerged under roiling water. A black woman ran up, shoved the girl back, and snatched the baby from the tub.” The girl tells the woman, “You can’t save it, you know. The gypsy told Papa it has to die.”
- Later Sarah sees the same black woman being whipped. “He stopped in front of a black woman, stripped naked to the waist, bound by her wrists to a low branch of the tree. ‘Where’s the child, you damned witch?’ She did not answer. . . and bleeding welts crisscrossed the white stripes of old scars on both sides of her spine. Dark drops sprayed from the blow, and I could see that the crop’s leather was stained wet brown.”
- A woman and her husband get in a fight. The woman “screamed, turning and swinging the thing in her hand down in an arc. He saw her at the last second and parried the thing with his forearm. Then he swore, reaching for the gem-set handle suddenly protruding from his shoulder…’Lock her in the nursery,’ he said. ‘I never want to see her again.’”
- Richard punches Jackson when he catches him dancing with Sarah. “I could smell the sour notes of champagne, and I could hear it in his voice…Richard turned and struck him in the face. ‘Shut up!’ Blood beaded on Jackson’s lip, purple-red in the half light.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Sarah overhears someone talking about her deceased grandmother. “I heard her liver failed, but with all poor Ida suffered, it was no wonder she drank.”
- Sarah’s mother finds “a stash of medical supplies in a narrow cupboard that contained mostly liquor.” She then “came out with a bottle of vodka and poured herself an inch over ice.”
- Sarah almost falls down after riding a horse for an hour. Richard says, “Woah, Parsons, you look like you’ve been hitting the sauce.”
- Richard drinks at Sarah’s party. “I noticed a nearly empty champagne flute at his elbow and wondered if it was his. The dealer didn’t seem to question it.”
- God, hell, and Jesus are used as exclamations.
- When Sarah bruises her forehead, her mother says, “Oh my God, what the Hell did you do to your face?”
- Sarah’s mother says, “Jesus, I can’t take this today.”
- Sarah says that “spending an evening with a hundred strangers is her idea of hell.”
- A kid says Amber House has “got a damn cemetery right on the property.”
- When Richard loses a race, Sarah hears him “choking out a few choice four-letter words.”
- A friend says Sarah made “an ass out of Richard in front of all his friends. . . It was about time someone took him down a peg.”
- Sarah’s mom says, “You think I’m some kind of conniving bitch because I want to use the senator’s connections?”
- Sarah sees visions of Amber House’s pasts when she touches certain objects. Some are harmless and fun, but some are frightening. “A woman stood in the shaft of moonlight. . . She might have been carved of stone. A spider ran down a lock of her hair, and air escaped me in the smallest gasp. . . The voice rose almost to a scream. ‘You think you are safe? You think I can’t hurt you? I can. I can get you. I can find you in your dreams.’”
- Sarah’s visions of Amber House are passed down among the woman of the family. Jackson says, “Ida saw things too. She called them echoes. When she touched certain things, little bits of the past came to life for her. She said they were the house’s memory.”
- An old woman named Nanga can see visions of the future, allowing her and Sarah to interact on several occasions. “She can see the future. And because I can see the past, we could talk to each other.”
- A woman in Sarah’s vision tries to stop her husband from burying their dead son. “’He’s not dead,’ she said, horror in her voice. ‘He’s sleeping. I’ve seen him in my dreams. His spirit comes to me. I won’t let you put him in the ground.”
- Sarah gets her fortune told at her birthday party. She is told, “I have never seen a board that spoke so powerfully of change as this one.”
- When Sammy goes into a coma, Sarah sees her brother’s face in a mirror. Jackson says, “There’s an old superstition that spirits can be trapped in mirrors.”
- At her grandmother’s funeral, the housekeeper covers all mirrors with black cloths. The housekeeper says it is “just a southern superstition. . . to help the departed’s soul cross over and not get trapped in the looking-glass world. . . People used to believe you could see through to the other side in a mirror. To the place where souls go after death before they move on to their final destination.”
- Sarah and her mother go to church to socialize. “It had been years since I’d been inside a church. My mother liked religion about as much as she liked anything else supernatural. But she led the way up the steps the next morning.”
- “I fell asleep still thinking about people watching me, thinking that the eyes in Amber House were kind of like the eyes of God, knowing every failing. Except God could forgive.”