The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Jul 2018

Member Reviews

Marketed as a middle grade book The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery (Turnkey) is ambitious to take on the difficult topic of WWII and how to explain the complexity to children. Allison Rushby does this by creating cemetery grave keepers, if you will. Ghosts or spirits that keep everyone in their cemetery safe and at rest. The concept overall was really interesting and it was a fast paced book. I certainly flipped pages quickly. However the plot was complex and it concerns me that it's took much for the average 9-11 year old. 

Complex Plot
Delving into the plot of Turnkey the reader needs to understand a few things:
1) The Nazis were the 'bad guys' (easy enough)
2) They have levels or ranks of military (not too bad)
3) They are trying to win a war by overtaking London (tolerable) and,
4) They believe that mystical spirit magic can do this.(here's where it gets tough).

Turnkey has to establish two things quickly for the reader. The four points above AND the magical construct that Rushby has created to tell her story from. The construct itself isn't too complicated but how it can or might work is. Additionally there are a lot of players in this book (seven turnkeys alone before we add in other ghosts and the Nazis) and while the language is very simple and well written for the 9-11 age range I still had a hard time keeping track of who was who. 

The thing with magic in stories is you have to set-up rules and parameters. If you want a twist to shock a reader then it needs to make sense inside those parameters that you create. Which means in a short period of time you need to not only tell the story/plot of your book, develop the characters, set the scene AND describe the magic. This gets a little lost in the multitude of characters in Turnkey. I worry that a child would not find this book to be very engaging as they would loose track of who was who very quickly. 

As with any WWII book the overall context is dark and foreboding. It was an awful time in human history and there is no easy way to tell any of the multitude of stories that are relevant to the time. There continues to be thousands of books published about WWII because there is so much for us (as a society) to learn and be reminded of from that war. Prejudice (of all kinds), value of life, lose of home or safe space, etc. are all touched upon in Turnkey. If you are not prepared to talk to your child about the horrors and evils that people can do to each other then I would definitely stray from this book. I would also encourage parents to read this book with their child or ensure they talk about it after the child finishes reading it; as there are bound to be concerns that arise. 
In fact this is probably a book best suited for kids a little older who are struggling to read. With it's complexity and serious topics it may be written for 9-11 but 12+ are likely to find the story interesting and not too challenging to read. 

This isn't the best children's WWII story I've read recently. But it's not the worst. Had I not felt like the magic was used to conveniently result in an outcome our heroine needed, I might have liked it more. 
I think a better alternative for children's WWII fiction is The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero. With far fewer characters and a less complex plot it was more meaningful to me. That said, if you want something a little more like The Book Thief but for a younger age (ie: Set in London, average person's fear during bombing, etc.) then Turnkey is a solid choice. 
For those parents or guardians nervous about giving this book to younger children, it maybe worth a quick read before you hand it over so you know what you're getting the child into. It's a quick and easy read so not much time is needed to ensure you are comfortable with the topics and representation. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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This book wasn't quite what I expected. I like learning about what a turnkey does, but overall the story was a bit flat for me. I struggled to finish it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book, which I voluntarily chose to review.
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*thank you to Netgalley and Candlewick Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

2.5 stars

This was OK. I found it really hard to get into to at the beginning and had to push through it. The idea of a story about a Turnkey was interesting and that's probably what I enjoyed most about it, the main character Flossie. I think this book will be a Hit or Miss for most people. It's not bad, it just simply wasnt for me, but it did have parts that were enjoyable to read. I will add though that I really like the cover.
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Flossie is 12 years old. She's been the turnkey of Highgate Cemetery for quite a while now. As a turnkey she must take care of the souls that come to Highgate Cemetery. She's the only soul that is allowed to wander off the cemetery and on one of her excursions to St Paul's, during the bombings of London in 1940, she sees the ghost of a Nazi officer. This is when the story gets interesting. 
Flossie now has to unravel the mystery of why the officer was at St Paul's, this leads her not only to the turnkeys of the other London cemeteries but also to a cemetery in Berlin. 

The story is a mix of historical fiction, children's fiction, ghost story and mystery. I quite enjoyed it, although it took me some time to get into the story. I am sure children/middle graders, who have a basic knowledge of what happened during WW II, will like it a bit more than I did.
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I really wanted to love the story because the premise seemed so intriguing; however,  it's much more historical fiction than spooky tale to which the description alludes.
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This is a really fun middle grades mystery. I really enjoyed that the story was told from the perspective of a ghost and I like the backdrop of WWII ravaged London.
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This was a fast-paced fantasy set in London during WW2.  The main characters are benign ghosts, residing in 6 of London's biggest cemeteries.  The turnkey has the unenviable job of helping the newly dead rest at peace.  However, with the war, bombings and a mystery, the turnkeys take on the challenge of connecting with the living to save England from the Nazis.  I found this to be an engaging story.  Historical and also fantasy, it will appeal to young readers who like mild thrills.
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I love reading about cemeteries, and so this book about "turnkeys" and the "twilight world" was fun to read. I liked the historical setting of WWII and the elements of fantasy. The author has created solid, intriguing characters to be a strong foundation for a series. Thank you, Netgalley, for this arc.
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I wanted to read The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery because I love a ghostly middle grade story. Unfortunately, that’s not what this book is. A few reviewers have invoked The Graveyard Book in comparison. I can see some similarities, but the dark aspects I loved about The Graveyard Book are not present here. The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery is first and foremost a historical tale about World War II. It’s not a spooky story at all. I found the plot simple and straightforward, not that engaging. Rules that supposedly govern what the ghosts and their interred can do are easily set aside in favour of moving the story ahead.

The characters fit conveniently into the plot, like they were written to serve it. Few words are devoted to character development. Flossie is a sweet girl, especially with her concern for her interred, but the reader doesn’t learn much about her. I would have liked to learn about who she was before she became a Turnkey – more of her personality and who she is beyond that role. She feels mostly like an actor in a plot and less a fully realized girl. Early in the book, the reader briefly learns how she came to be in her current outfit. The story could have been strengthened with more tidbits of that sort, that give insight to Flossie’s character. Another scene could have been emotionally powerful, but instead took place over two pages and again only served to move the plot forward.

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery highlighted for me the occasional disparity between how I review a book personally and how I would review it ‘professionally’ (i.e., for a young reader). This time next year, I will have completed my MLIS and will hopefully be working as children’s librarian. I imagine I may shift how I review at that time. I think I might split my reviews into a ‘professional opinion’ and a ‘personal opinion’. Turnkey didn’t appeal to me personally, but it does have appeal factors that would lead me to recommend this book to certain types of readers.

The Bottom Line: The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery isn’t quite up to snuff with the rest of the middle grade novels I’ve been reading this year. Young readers who enjoy historical fiction about WWII may appreciate the unique perspective The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery offers.
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My heartfelt thanks to Candlewick Press, the author and Netgalley for providing me with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. It is very much appreciated. 

   This book is wonderful, but it was not what I expected, especially after seeing the cover art. I went in to this book thinking that I would be reading a ghost story. However, it turned out to be wonderful story of a ghost who is the keeper of a cemetery in England during WWII. 

The historical setting of this book gives readers an insight into a very believable world. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to children who are interested in historical fiction and ghosts that are charming and full of personality. I really hope this book expands into a series for young readers.
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Interest Level: 3-6

Have you ever lived in a place in which you feel like you are the protector and you will do whatever it takes to keep your family safe? This is Flossie's job. She is a twelve-year-old ghost that lives in Highgate Cemetery. She is the turnkey for this cemetery, which means that she is the guardian and protector of all the souls buried here. She is very good at her job, however there is a war going on in London which is causing great turmoil with the living people. As Flossie is standing atop St Paul's Cathedral surveying the damage, she sees a man dresses in a Nazi military uniform. What is very unusual about this man is that he is a ghost but he seems to be carrying an object from the human world. This is impossible... or is it? When he sees Flossie he quickly vanishes, but how? Only a turnkey can go from place to place and only with a key. This man did not have a key, only what looked like a crystal skull. As Flossie begins to investigate she uncovers a secret plot by the Nazis. The man is a spy and is somehow taking back valuable information to the humans. Flossie obtains help from her fellow turnkeys so that they can save their beloved cemetery. As Flossie gets deeper and deeper into this investigation she finds out that the connection between her and this horrible spy is closer to home than she ever realized. Can Flossie and the other turnkeys save their city and their home? Will Flossies cemetery be wiped out and all the souls be at unrest? Don't miss this page-turner! 

When you start this book, Flossie will become your friend and you cannot help but cheer for her. This is a fast-paced, full of action story that will have you saying "wow" at the end. Don't miss this one!
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This is the perfect books for kids looking for something a little spooky but not scary. Flossie is 12 and she is dead. She is also the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery and she has to take care of those interred there. This is quick to read and enjoyable
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1940s, London. Flossie is 12 years old, and she has long been dead. However, she still has an important role : she is the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, and that means that she  is responsible for the well-being of the other souls residing in this resting place. When she encounters the ghost of an SS soldier that carries a very strange object with him, she knows she has to investigate. Recruiting her friends, she will uncover a secret that can put everyone, both dead and living, in danger. Will she be able to help everyone and prevent a disaster?

This was a lovely middle-grader book. Combining fantasy with historical fiction, it is an attractive story for children to read. The plot was unique and appealing, and the concept overall very good. It felt like some parts of the story could have been edited a little more, as in times it felt like parts of the story dragged on for too long, and a more fast-paced style would suit the book better. However, it was still a pleasant, enjoyable and quick read.
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A middle grade ghost story, good for grades 3-6. This book had ghosts and Nazis, English cemeteries and WWII. It had a lot of interesting components and the writing was good, but the pacing was a bit off for me. I found it difficult to get into. I wouldn’t hesitate to have it on my shelf for students though.
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A BIG Thank You to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for providing me a copy of “The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery” by Allison Rushby in exchange for my review. This was an interesting read. The story is unique and has a good blend of adventure, fantasy, mystery and drama into it.

I enjoyed Allison Rushby’s style of writing. I really liked that the backdrop was set against World War II and we get an insight of the war from a ghost’s perspective. The story is set against the backdrop of London and the author depicts the grim environment it was in during that time. She doesn’t shy away from the brutal realities that the people faced during the bombings. Furthermore, it was interesting that the author has portrayed life after death in a very peaceful way. There is no mention of heaven or hell. Even the ghosts are not vengeful and restless as we would imagine. It is just about keeping souls at rest in the afterlife, and shown in a very serene manner.

The characters are all displayed wonderfully. Flossie is a strong, brave and helpful girl who persists in doing what she feels is right. She is a wonderful role model for younger readers and is very inspiring in her actions to help others. Even the supporting characters are charming in their own manner, especially Violet and Hugo Howsham. On a side note, I would have liked to read a bit more about Viktor Brun and why he turned out to be such a psychopath.

There were a few small tidbits that I felt could have been better. Personally, I would have liked it if the author removed the character of Grace completely. I felt this side story was unnecessary and too melodramatic. I can understand why the author would want to include her in the plot, but I didn’t care for it. Also, some of the facts mentioned in the book are inaccurate and could be misleading to younger readers. The author does highlight it in the end, but could have been better if it was accurate. Also, I wasn’t really clear as to the time-lapse that happens when Flossie travels to different locations. I felt that a lot of time passes by while she travels and had trouble imagining the timelines in the story.

Overall, “The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery” was a nice read but could have been better. I rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars. I hope this becomes a possible series as I would enjoy reading Flossie’s adventures during different incidents and milestones.
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A wonderful book than can be appreciated by both children and adult. It reminded me of Gaiman's Graveyard Book.
It's a great paranormal story with a historical background and a lovely ghostly main characters. The style of writing is fabolous and book moved and entertained me at the same time.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to Candlewick Press and Netgalley for this ARC
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The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery is a beautiful exploration of what could be life after death and what being brave truly means.

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery tells the fantastical story of twelve-year-old Flossie Birdwhistle, a ghost charged with the protection of the Cemetery she's buried in, Highgate Cemetery. When the Blitz threatens the peace Flossie has spent her afterlife trying to achieve, she will stop at nothing to make sure those she cherishes most are protected even if it means sacrificing her afterlife in the process.

I was pleasantly surprised as to just how much history, both British and otherwise, was packed into this 256 page novel. Furthermore, even though this novel is directed towards middle grade readers I didn't find, as a reader who enjoys YA and Adult fiction, the history to be oversimplified, which was a misguided fear I had going into The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery. Because the history was so sophisticated I fell that this novel is a great starter for any youngster who is interested in history or World War II in specific.

Flossie as a character was a delight to read about. The way in which her story is presented, both pre and post death made her incredibly interesting so far as protagonists go, and though she was a ghost that wasn't her entire personality. She was independent, determined, intelligent, and willing to go to just about any length to save her charges. While there were other enjoyable characters, fellow ghosts and familiars, Flossie will stick with me for the foreseeable future, and hopefully the next middle grade I pick up has a character like her.
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The story was well thought out, moved along and even though the story finished its plot I really hope to see this become a series. 

I received the ebook from NetGalley for my honest review.
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What it's about:

Historical fiction meets middle grade ghosts stories. Flossie is the ghost of a young girl, and as the Turnkey for all of Highgate Cemetery, she is responsible for the rest and well being of all of its inhabitants. Set in England during WWII, Flossie notices a new ghost in a place where he shouldn’t be. Upon investigating, she realizes that he is trying to pass information to the living in order to help the Nazis when the war. It’s up to her to stop him.

What I liked:

I generally like historical fiction and adding ghosts to the mix only made it better. I enjoyed the side story about Grace, but I wish it had been a bigger part of the story. As it is, I feel like it really didn’t play any part in the main story arc, and could have possibly been left out altogether.

What I disliked:

The historical parts weren’t entirely accurate (which the author does note at the end, she took some liberties.) so if you want a child to learn anything accurate about history, this book will need to some side information to go along with it.

I also thought that the world building could have been better. I’d like to learn more about the Turnkeys and how their job works.


I sped through this story. It was easy quick reading, as middle grade usually is. I picked it because the cover art was good, and the synopsis sounded interesting. In the end, I’m not sorry I read it, but it could have been so much better.
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ARC Copy...hmm interesting supernatural middle grade read and accurate pointing out on how the Nazi were actually interested in the "occult" supernatural for their own purposes during the second world war.
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