Maera and her ammi never talk about the Past, a place where they’ve banished their family’s heartache and grief forever. They especially never mention the night Maera’s older brother Asad disappeared from her naana’s house in Karachi ten years ago.
But when her grandfather dies and his derelict greenhouse appears in her backyard from thousands of miles away, Maera is forced to confront the horrors of her grandfather’s past. To find out what happened to her brother, she must face the keepers of her family’s secrets—the monsters that live inside her grandfather’s mysterious house of glass.
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This is magical. This is historical. This is a blend of the lore and the lost. Despite a hazy pace and character voice, the alternate perspectives told through two different timelines makes this a pleasant one-time read. Published by Yali Books in September 2021!
House of Glass Hearts is a debut young adult fiction lined with magical realism that blends history and myth.
When Maera’s grandfather dies, his greenhouse suddenly appears in her backyard and brings back memories of a dreadful past that took away her brother. Now, when this past that was never talked about physically manifests itself, Maera decides to find her missing brother—ten years after he had vanished overnight in the same greenhouse during a family trip to Karachi, Pakistan. And she hopes her late grandfather’s diary would have answers. With the aid of her cousin Jimmy, friend Sara, and neighbor Rob, Maera enters the greenhouse and encounters a churail in the lush jungle.
Told in alternate timelines, switching between colonial India and present-day America, this debut authentically paints the historical horrors before and immediately after India’s independence. The region’s pain during WWII and the Partition seeps through a narration that not only discusses interreligious tensions, demands for division, and sacrifices during the freedom struggle, but also deals with intergenerational trauma and grief. It lets Indian & Pakistani folklore soak the present-day quest with a demonic spirit, a churail, plausibly acting as an embodiment of the horrors that the other simultaneous narrative unravels.
Rightly said to be Pan’s Labyrinth meets The Night Diary, this genre-bending story brings in the darkness and thrill of a missing brother, an enchanting greenhouse, and an ominous fantastical creature, while unfolding a past of sadness that generations of the subcontinent wish was only of happiness for the freedom from years of British colonization. There’s also a dash of Stranger Things but unfortunately, the voice of the characters—who are young adults but read tweens—doesn’t let one fully engage with the massive cast and the rushed writing somehow slows down the speculative plot that centers the present-day arc.
Regardless of the disappointing overall reading experience, the historical elements are impactful and the ending doesn’t fail to satiate. It’s clear that this book might not be for everyone because it doesn’t fit one box: it’s not just a historical fiction, it’s not just a fantasy; it’s not just magical realism, it’s not just an adventure. Its strengths carry the weight of glass hearts and its few weaknesses surprisingly don’t break them.
my rating ↣ ★★★☆☆
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One thought on “Book Review: House of Glass Hearts by Leila Siddiqui”
The premise sounds great! Unfortunate that you didn’t enjoy it overall but it looks to have had some redeeming parts to it.