Vivian Van Tassel and the Secret of Midnight Lake

Vivian Van Tassel and the Secret of Midnight Lake
Age Range
Release Date
August 29, 2023
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Twelve-year-old Vivian Van Tassel is angry: angry about her mom’s mysterious and sudden death; at her dad for uprooting their lives in Chicago to move to the sleepy, creepy town of Midnight Lake; at the bullies who seem to be drawn to her no matter how much she tries to keep her head down…but mostly angry at herself for causing bad things to happen wherever she goes.

When a class assignment at her new school prompts Vivian to research the history of Midnight Lake, she quickly discovers her new home is even more peculiar than it seems. Not only was the infamous Beasts & Battlements (B&B) roleplaying game invented in Midnight Lake, but there are also some hard to explain coincidences about the town and its history that seem to tie back to the game in a way that’s as puzzling as it is disturbing.

When the biggest oddballs at school attempt to befriend Vivian and introduce her to their game of B&B, she’s torn between wanting to follow the path that has always worked for her—keeping everyone at arm's length—and giving these strange kids and their even stranger fantasy game a chance.

Maybe that’s what it will take to get to the bottom of the mystery of Midnight Lake…and why Vivian was really brought there in the first place.

Editor review

1 review
Learning to trust
Overall rating
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What worked:
The most intriguing part of the book is the fact that Murkwood Middle School was one of many insane asylums located around Myrtle Lake. The school’s history makes it a creepy setting and the less-than-friendly teachers, except for Ms. Greenleaf, only add to the cold atmosphere. An immediate question is why there were so many sanitariums located this close together and readers will wonder if there might be lingering bad vibes and juju in Vivian’s school. She discovers many of the patients were diagnosed with very similar symptoms and delusions which adds to the evidence that something very strange was happening in Midnight Lake. Vivian’s school assignment is to report on the history of her school building but it evolves into solving the mystery of Mirror Lake.
Vivian’s character and personality are complicated and they often make her interactions with others challenging. She’s feeling anger and sadness since she blames herself for her mother’s death. She knows her emotions are on edge but she often can’t stop the fury from erupting. This loss of control results in physical altercations with classmates or sassy, disrespectful comments to her teachers. Vivian’s father offers to spend more time with her and talk when she’s having trouble but she just can’t bring herself to open up to him. Vivian begins to feel uneasy when she often notices a gray man keeping his eye on her from across the street or rooms. She doesn’t know his intentions so it’s easy to think the worst in the town of Midnight Lake.
Vivian begins to hang out with four misfits she finds playing a version of a Dungeons-and-Dragons-type game during the lunch period. The game’s creator once lived in Midnight Lake. The misfits are non-judgmental and Vivian can be at ease around them. Her anger comes in handy at one point when she steps in to help one of the kids deal with the school bully. However, Vivian won’t call them friends because becoming close to others only sets her up for future pain. The misfits welcome her whenever she chooses to show up and they offer her support as she adjusts to the new school. Their expertise in playing the game comes in handy when Vivian uncovers unbelievable news about the history of Midnight Lake.
What didn’t work as well:
Vivian’s personality makes it hard to feel sorry for her. Yes, the loss of her mother has caused her anger but she doesn’t develop honest, positive connections to any other characters. She tells her father she spends time with the misfits for research and she leaves their games suddenly without sharing any explanation. Her disrespect for characters and self-absorption in her own life may keep readers from feeling too sorry for her. Rest assured Vivian eventually transforms into a more positive character.
The final verdict:
The secret of Midnight Lake offers a thrilling mystery for young readers. Some clues are fairly obvious but the author still includes some surprises for later. Overall, I recommend you give the book a shot.
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