After getting caught in a mysterious museum fire, April is whisked away to live at the Winterborne Home with four other orphans. She soon realizes that the key her mother left her strangely bears the Winterborne family crest — but why? Ally Carter’s middle grade debut is a perfect blend of mystery, action, adventure and the power of found family, set against the backdrop of a creepy mansion rife with secrets. What more could you ask for?
“An adventure-filled read with a twisty mystery and spunky friendships. I loved it!” –Melissa de la Cruz, New York Times best-selling author of The Descendants series
April didn't mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don't understand that April isn’t like them. After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.
All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“And on the right we have young Gabriel Winterborne!” April looked to her right, but it was just another painting. In a whole room full of paintings, none of which were all that impressive to April. After all, you can’t eat oil-covered canvases. Or, well, you could. But April strongly suspected you probably shouldn’t. You could burn them for firewood, of course. Maybe sell them down on Front Street to the old woman with the long white braids and the dog that looks like a fox. But there was no point in wondering what a painting like that might be worth. No one like April was ever going to own one. But that didn’t stop the young woman in the burgundy blazer from looking up at the painting like it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. “Note how Gabriel clings to his father’s hand? He was ten when it was painted, and it’s the last known portrait of the Winterborne family. A month after it was finished, his whole family would be dead and young Gabriel would be orphaned. Can you imagine?” the docent said, but then she seemed to remember who she was talking to. She looked at the kids who filled the room. Some ran a little too fast. Some stood a little too still. All wore clothes that didn’t quite fit, and they looked at those paintings as if they too were wondering how many meals one of them might buy. But Blazer Lady just threw her shoulders back and raised her voice, shouting over the Johnson twins, who were arguing about which superhero’s farts would smell the worst. Because they were at a fancy museum. They were on their best behavior. “Follow me, children! Follow me!” The museum was super pretty, April had to admit. Nicer than the group home. Cleaner than the school that was only open four days a week because they couldn’t afford to run the buses on the fifth day. Which meant on the fifth day, there was no free lunch, which meant on the fifth day, April usually had to be “creative,” but that was okay. Being creative kept April sharp. And, besides, it wasn’t going to last forever. As soon as her mom came back, everything would be okay. So April decided to enjoy the bright, clean rooms with the shiny wood floors and tall windows. Even the air smelled fancy (fart debates aside). They were close to the ocean, and the breeze was clean and fresh. April felt like maybe she’d climbed onto a spaceship that morning instead of a rusty school bus. It felt a lot like it had brought her to another world. For reasons April couldn’t quite pinpoint, she turned around and took one last look at the steel gray eyes of the Winterbornes. “Hey, April!” Girl Taylor whispered. Boy Taylor was on the other side of the room, joining in the fart discussion. “I dare you to touch it.” Girl Taylor pointed at the painting, crossed her arms, and tried to look tough. But April was very good at a number of things; ignoring foolish dares happened to be one of them. “What’s wrong?” Caitlyn with a C asked. “Are you too chicken?” Kaitlyn with a K said, chiming in. “Nope,” April told them. “Too smart.” April shouldn’t have said it. She was always doing that—letting her inside thoughts become her outside words. It was one of the things she wasn’t good at, and it made people like Girl Taylor and the C/Kaitlyns hate her even more than they already did. But April couldn’t help the fact that she was different—that foster care was temporary for her. That her mother was coming back—probably any day now. “You think you’re so much better than us.” Girl Taylor’s hands were still crossed over her chest, and she was sticking out her lower lip. It was her tough-girl stance, and April knew she was supposed to be intimidated. She just wasn’t very good at that either. “No,” April said, trying to sound nice and sweet. It wasn’t her fault she had the kind of face that looked mad unless it was smiling. And smiling for no reason made April’s head hurt. “I just know what that is.” April pointed to the tiny sensor that was sticking out from behind the painting. “Laser,” she whispered, like that single word should be explanation enough. But judging from their expressions, it wasn’t. “It’ll cut off any finger that touches it.” “No, it won’t.” Caitlyn with a C’s voice sounded sure, but her eyes lacked conviction. “Of course it will. That particular kind of laser burns at fifteen hundred degrees. It has to cauterize the wound as it slices because the museum can’t risk getting blood all over everything.” “Yeah,” Girl Taylor said. “That’s true.” (It wasn’t true.) “I knew that.” (She totally didn’t know that.) April forced a smile. “Of course you did. You probably saw the guards, too.” “Uh . . . guard.” Kaitlyn wasn’t that impressed, and she made sure April knew it. But April pointed to the other side of the room. “Yeah. One uniform. But that janitor has been cleaning whatever room we happen to be in since we got here. And she’s wearing an earpiece identical to the guard’s.” That part really was true. April didn’t know how she noticed these things. Or why. Sometimes she thought it must be because her mother was a world-famous art thief. Or spy. Or thriller writer. But whatever made April think the way she did must have come from nature. Her mother hadn’t been around long enough for nurture to have had much effect. Yet. After all, her mother was coming back. Soon. “Yeah, well, maybe she’s not a guard,” Girl Taylor said. “Maybe she’s April’s mother.” And just like that, everyone remembered the pecking order. April wasn’t the alpha female. She wasn’t the beta either. In fact, April wasn’t even part of the pack, and that was very much the way she liked it. “No. I think that’s April’s mother.” Kaitlyn pointed to a painting by Picasso of a woman who was shaped like a Barbie doll that someone had put in the microwave. “No,” Caitlyn said, catching on to the game. She found a painting of Medusa’s severed head being held aloft by a dude with a sword. “That’s April’s mother.” The three of them laughed like they were super funny, and April laughed too. It was easier that way, she’d learned three group homes ago. Better to fake laugh some of the time than fake smile all of the time. That was just math. Besides, the docent was looking at them and yelling, “Girls! Keep up!” April didn’t know when—or why—the museum had gotten so crowded. Suddenly, it was like the bell had just rung, and there wasn’t enough room in the hall as April pushed against the current of people that was flowing in the opposite direction. She might have been lost if she hadn’t seen the docent in the center of the big atrium, looking up at a man who stood a little too tall and a little too still to be human. Which he wasn’t, April realized once she got a little closer. “Now, who can tell me who this is?” the woman asked the kids. And they all yelled, “The Sentinel!” The docent laughed. “I guess that was an easy one.” “Go, Sentinels!” Boy Taylor yelled, and the beta boys whooped. “Yes. Most people know about the mascot, but who can tell me about the legend?” the docent asked. For the first time that day, April felt the kids go quiet. Still. They leaned closer, and the woman dropped her voice as she said, “Two hundred years ago, a ship was crossing the sea when a terrible storm began to brew. The crew knew they had to lower the sails or risk being blown off course, but the sails were stuck, and they wouldn’t come down. Lightning struck. The wind roared. And while the captain shouted and the crew panicked, the ship’s lookout began to slowly climb the mast, higher and higher, a long knife held between his teeth, and a sword in his belt. He wasn’t much more than a boy, but he kept climbing and climbing and then—” “He cut the sail?” one of the beta boys asked. “No,” the docent said simply. “He fell into the ocean and died.” It was like the air went out of the group—like they’d been holding their breaths and hadn’t even realized it. “But then a great big wave tossed him back onto the ship, and when the crew looked up again, the lookout was high on the mast, cutting the sail free, and saving their lives.” “So he didn’t die?” a Johnson twin asked. The docent raised her hands and shook her head. “No one knows. They say that, in the next moment, the wind blew and lightning struck, and the captain was never seen again. Eventually, the ship reached land, but for weeks—months—years later, there were reports of a young man wielding a sword and long knife, wandering the city, always there to help when evil was about to strike! Always wearing black. Always disappearing into shadows, like the mist rolling off the sea.” For a long time a hush descended over the group, but then the kids began to mumble and whisper amongst themselves. “The Sentinel’s not a legend!” “Yeah. My grandpa said the Sentinel is real.” “The Sentinel lives in my old neighborhood.” “Man, you’re crazy. There ain’t no Sentinel.” “Then how do you explain . . .” The individual arguments bled together until it was just like the fart discussion, but with a far less obvious answer. (The Hulk. The Hulk’s farts smell the worst.) April didn’t want to be part of the argument or the crowd. She just wanted to enjoy the sweet-smelling air and the bright, clean room, so she drifted away from the kids, through the exhibit, and into the big, wide hall, where she found herself standing with a group of adults who all seemed to be waiting for . . . something. But April had never liked waiting.