Quinn hasn't had it very easy lately. Everything started unraveling when her younger sister, Emma, vanished on the way home from school one day last winter. That's when her parents stopped being happy. Ever since then, Quinn has felt crushing guilt. She should have been with Emma that day, not in detention for something that never should have happened (she was caught cheating). Everything bad that happened since was her fault.
And NOW Quinn's best friend, Kara Cawson, is moving halfway across the country.
At least Quinn is getting to ride with Kara's family to their new house, where she will spend some much-needed time away from the madness of her homelife.
It's been the weirdest road trip ever, though: There was that odd diner that only served grilled cheese sandwiches. There were those creepy wind turbines. There was the desert itself, which Quinn is positive is filled with snakes and scorpions and other creepy crawlies just waiting to pounce...
Most of all, there is The Inn Between, the uber-strange Victorian bed and breakfast she and the Cawsons stop at. Here, things are just slightly...off? The staff is a bit too cheerful, there are no phones (or cell service), and the physical structure of the building itself seems to change from moment to moment. There are other things too, like the familiar-looking man in the cap who fills Quinn with dread. And the girl Quinn keeps seeing from a distance, the one who looks like Emma (but Quinn can never get close enough to be sure).
Then Kara's parents and brother mysteriously vanish, and no one seems to know where they've gone. As the girls try to unravel the mystery of the missing family members, they begin to learn the truth about what really brought them to The Inn Between. A semi-inconclusive ending lets the reader come to their own decision about happens next, not unlike the age-old riddle about The Lady or The Tiger.
Marina Cohen's chilling middle-grade novel, The Inn Between, deals with some very deep concepts for the age level of its intended audience. Almost right away, readers will conclude that the characters are in some sort of limbo, a stopping place between the conscious world and the next (thus the name of the hotel). This could account for the disappearances of Kara's family. Readers may also guess at Emma's unfortunate fate. Predictable, yes, but in that intentional way when authors want the reader to catch on. And that doesn't minimize the awesomeness of this story, which had me glued to the pages!
The Inn Between reminded me a lot of the movie The Dust Factory (available for checkout from the Teen DVD collection). In this sleeper film, a teen boy is in a rollerblading accident. When he sits up, his world is strangely changed: His mother and best friend are nowhere to be found, but his grandfather, who is suffering from severe Alzheimer's, is suddenly lucid and talkative. There's also Melanie, the girl who is always cold and ice skates on the lake even though it is summer. Melanie shows Ryan The Dust Factory, a strange circus tent across the railroad tracks. Together they learn the truth about their strange surroundings and what they must do if they wish to go home.
Both book and movie are highly recommended--AJB