Matthew’s OCD is all-consuming and prevents him going to school. And his anxiety escalates when he finds out one of the neighbours is expecting a baby as he believes that even the germs in his room might cause his family and friends to sicken and die.
Although Matthew is housebound, he watches the daily comings and goings within the cul-de-sac from his window and so notices at once when something different occurs such as the day that Mr Charles’s two grandchildren come to stay next door. When one of the grandchildren, toddler Teddy disappears, Matthew is convinced that not is everything is as it seems with the inhabitants of the Close. He starts noticing discrepancies with the neighbours and changes in their habits concluding that he should be able to solve the mystery of who took Teddy if he can only work out the details.
Together with unlikely allies Melody and Jake from the Close and his friend the wallpaper lion as his confidante inside his room, Matthew begins to uncover secrets and finds each house has a story waiting to be discovered: the sad story of Old Nina’s son who disappeared while on holiday, whom she leaves a light on for every night; Melody who collects written memorials from the graveyard before they are thrown away and Teddy’s sister Casey who is weirdly obsessed with her doll and appears to be a bit of a sociopath.
The burgeoning friendship between the children and the visits to Matthew’s insightful therapist help him not only uncover the mystery of the missing toddler but also to find the reason behind his obsessive cleaning. The ending is hopeful and upbeat when he comes out of his room to join a neighbourhood party and states he is going to be fine.
Peopled by a cast of somewhat oddball characters, this is a heart-warming tale of a lonely boy who faces up to his demons and learns not only a whole lot about himself but also some surprising things about his neighbours and that you cannot take things at face-value. His somewhat awkward relationship with his Dad is well-handled and it says a lot about the different ways people view mental-illness. The story takes a little while to get going and is a tad too long in places but is a touching and satisfying debut.