Plot summary-A group of children are spending the night in the creepy Old Harwick Hall, as part of a school trip. They are placed into certain groups, and Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo find themselves together. None of the group members are really best friends, but throughout the night they discover a secret that the old mansion has kept hidden for years, and they suddenly find themselves coming closer together and discovering why they were put in a group with each other. They are all wondering why they are put together, when they discover that they each had two different addresses on their permission slips, one for their mother’s home and one for their father’s home. Each child comes from a divorced family. At least one of their parents has married again. Some children have to deal with either stepbrothers, stepsisters, or blood related siblings. They each in turn tell each other about how their parents broke up. It uncovers many mysterious questions.
This novel is a tale that is both funny and moving. Five children are stranded together for the night in a tower of creepy, dark old Harwick Hall. In that stormy night, the children uncover the story of Richard Clayton Harwick which is very disturbing. It is a tale of a boy who of many years ago learned what it was like to have a truly wicked stepfather.
Richard Clayton Harwick’s long hidden journal provides an inner tale that triggers off, one by one, each of the stories of the listening children. It turns out eventually that they all have step parents, some kind, some bad, some just plain wrong and so they tell each other their stories. After listening to Richard’s story, each of the five tells his or her own. Their stories are powerful and intensely moving tales of children struggling with change and shifting family conditions.
Claudia’s story shows things well on the way to a happy ending. Claudia feels disloyal to her mum whenever she has a good time with her father and his new girlfriend, Stella. Thus, she is unfriendly towards Stella. Finally, in front of her Dad’s friends who are rude to Stella, she compliments Stella and makes everyone notice the lady.
Colin’s story is moving. Colin’s seems the saddest. He had someone he thought of as his father and now he misses him so badly that it hurts. Colin’s mother leaves the only father Colin has known, a man she lived with for many years, and in her attempt to create a new life for herself does not see that Colin has been torn from a man he loves. Colin loves his stepfather, but hasn’t seen him for five years, and is obsessively determined to find him.
Ralph’s story, though merry, is as complicated as a maze. He has three stepmothers to deal with. All of them are different in their ways. In addition, he has a lot of stepbrothers, stepsisters, half brother and half sisters to accept in his life. Ralph cannot keep track of which parent’s house he should go to after school each day, so his parents develop a lunchbox system: the Dumbo lunchbox means Dad’s house after school; the Mickey Mouse one directs him to his mother’s.Towards the end, we can see that he is anxiously waiting for his little half sister or half brother to be born.
Pixie has to deal with two really irritating sisters. She hates to go over her dad’s house twice in a month. She feels that everyone is pretending to be in a happy family when thay are actually not. She has to deal with two really irritating stepsisters and father who pretends he doesn’t notice how difficult things are for her.Soon, Pixie discovers that her stepmother and stepsisters aren’t any happier about the situation than she is. She learns to adapt to the situation. One of her step sisters teaches her mathematics and in return she tells ghost stories.
Robbo and his sister, Callie find that their half sister, Dumpa is the problem. Both their Mum and stepfather, Roy keep on arguing. The arguments are mainly due to Callie. Callie never seems to see eye to eye with Roy. Both Mum and Roy are committed with each other just because of Dumpa, their three year old son. Eventually, Callie moves out to her Dad’s place and that solves the problem.
Each of their stories is different, but through the act of telling, and through the responses of the other children, each one learns more about his or her life.