Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers

Greystone Secrets No. 1, The Strangers, book cover.


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Book Review

In Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Mom leaves suddenly on a mysterious business trip. The Greystone siblings discover her secret and try to rescue her from a dark alternate reality. It is the first book in the “Greystone Secrets” series.

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-old Chess Greystone and his younger siblings, Emma and Finn, live with their mom in Ohio. Their dad died eight years earlier, and only Chess remembers him. The kids return from school one day to find Mom deeply troubled. She’s watching a report about three kidnapped siblings in Arizona.

The Greystone children are shocked to learn the missing kids, whose last name is Gustano, have the same first and middle names as each of them, as well as the same dates of birth. Chess overhears Mom having a strange conversation at three in the morning with someone named Joe. The next day, she tells the kids she’s leaving on a business trip and may be too busy to call them. They will stay with one of Mom’s PTA acquaintances, Ms. Morales, and her teen daughter, Natalie.

The kids and Natalie make trips to the Greystone house to feed the cat every few days. They discover Mom’s phone and computers are still there, and they find a code on Mom’s laptop. They also find secret rooms and passageways beyond Mom’s basement office that take them to a world they don’t recognize. Ms. Morales is a private investigator who often spies on cheating husbands, so Natalie is sure there is some sort of relationship problem at the core of Mom’s disappearance. The Greystone siblings assure her she’s wrong.

The kids return to Natalie’s house with Mom’s laptop. When they finally crack part of Mom’s code, they learn the world they’ve visited—and the world where Mom is currently imprisoned—is an alternate reality. Mom and Dad had lived there and tried to fight the oppressive leadership. When Dad was killed for this, Mom took the kids and fled to their current reality. She knew that they would have doppelgängers there, so she did her best to ensure their paths would never cross.

But when she heard the news report about the kidnappings in Arizona, she knew enemies from her old reality were after her. They had inadvertently kidnapped her doppelgänger’s children. So Mom returned to the alternate reality to try to make things right for the Gustanos.

The Greystone kids and Natalie return to the alternate reality, too, where they discover Mom is on trial. The corrupt leader, who is actually Ms. Morales’s doppelgänger, is using false recordings to make the townspeople think Mom is confessing to crimes. The kids meet Joe, the man from Mom’s phone conversation, and he helps them get to her. She tells them the most important thing now is for them to save the Gustano kids, who are in the same building. Mom says she’ll meet them back at home. The kids reluctantly leave Mom and help the Gustano children escape back into their normal reality.

In the process, the real Ms. Morales gets trapped in the alternate reality. The kids hope by solving the rest of Mom’s code, they can save their mother and Natalie’s mom.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The corrupt government in the alternate universe uses technology to control what citizens see and hear. They alter Mom’s words when she’s on trial, so that everyone thinks she is confessing to crimes she didn’t commit.

Authority Roles

The Greystone parents risked their lives in their efforts to overthrow a corrupt government in the alternate universe. Mom, feeling responsible for the kidnapping of the Gustano kids, returns to the dark land to save the children. Ms. Morales, a realtor and detective, isn’t especially nurturing but tries to keep the Greystone kids safe while their mother is away.

Profanity & Violence

The word “sucks” appears once.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

What type of clients does Ms. Morales typically help in her private detective business? Why does she assume Mrs. Greystone is having relationship problems?

When have you thought you knew what was happening in a situation only to discover you were completely wrong?

What do you think of the theory that a new universe might be created every time someone makes a decision?

Describe Natalie’s relationship with her mom. When have you had a strained relationship with a family member? How did you handle it?

What strengths does Emma have that allow her to crack Mom’s code? What are some subjects or hobbies at which you are especially good? How do you use those gifts in your daily life?

What aspects of the alternate universe give the kids a sense of danger or evil?

When have you felt the need to be especially cautious because your situation felt  strange or uncomfortable?

Additional Comments

Lying: Natalie sometimes lies to her mom and keeps secrets from Ms. Morales to help and protect the Greystone kids. Natalie tells the kids sometimes grown-ups, mainly husbands, lie and say they travel a lot for work when they often have a second job and family somewhere else. The government in the Greystones’ original universe lies to citizens by giving them edited versions of the truth.

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