A Castle in the Window

Erin has flunked fifth grade. Her parents have begged and pleaded with the principal, but he insists: she can't go into sixth grade until she can read at sixth grade level. And she can't. She can't even read at second grade level. She's dyslexic; but until this year, nobody noticed, because her brother read her her homework assignments, and she remembered them. Just like she remembered her music lessons when he played them on the piano. But now Erin has learned that that kind of learning is "faking" - and it's wrong. And unless she can learn to read really fast, over the summer, while her parents are taking her brother to Europe, she'll be a disgrace to the whole family. So Erin is sent to live with terrifying Aunt Joan and her pathetic half-brother Uncle Druce, who collects bottle caps, because Aunt Joan used to be some sort of teacher. Nobody ever asked how many of her students survived.

Shortly after Erin arrives at Aunt Joan's shabby house, a moving truck delivers two toy boxes and a grand piano, both from the house of Uncle Druce's mother, who has just died. After watching the piano be set up, Erin goes upstairs to inspect the boxes - and finds they are filled with blocks for a castle and a set of beautiful lead knights in armor. Only almost all the knights have been terribly - and deliberately - broken.

That night, Erin visits the knights after everyone is asleep - and as her flashlight shines on the window, a castle appears out of nowhere. After that, she lives a double life: during the daytime, she agonizes over the one-syllable words Aunt Joan makes her learn - and sometimes, when nobody is around to hear, she plays the wonderful grand piano. But at night, she visits the castle in the window -- which, inexplicably but consistently, turns into a attic inhabited a boy a little older than herself. His name is Con, and he plays the piano. Really plays - he can improvise anything he wants, in any key. And he shows her how to do it - or at least how she could do it if she practiced hard enough. Instructed by Aunt Joan, she practices the piano even harder than she practices reading, but when she learns that Aunt Joan used to have a little brother named Con, she begins to wonder what happened to him. Why has she never heard of him? Why has she never heard that Aunt Joan once had a husband? People who "aren't right" just disappear from the family. What about her? If she doesn't learn to read properly, will the family just abandon her? And what does all that have to do with the castle?