The first book in the series was published on October 1, 2012 by Scholastic's Arthur A. Levine Books imprint. It is classified as a paranormal romance with Gothic horror and science fiction elements.
The book introduces protagonist Sarah Parsons and her extended family, and tasks Sarah with solving the mystery of locating Captain Joseph Foster's fortune of lost diamonds before her sixteenth birthday, when her mother, Anne, intends to put Amber House on the market.
"I was almost sixteen the first time my grandmother died."
The book begins at the funeral of Sarah's maternal grandmother, Ida Warren McGuinness. Sarah and her autistic brother, five-year-old Sammy, have never seen their mother's supposedly-haunted ancestral home; Anne was estranged from Ida, and she plans to sell Amber House and everything in it.
Sarah meets her grandmother's nurse, Rose Valois, and Rose's teenaged grandson, Jackson. Sarah feels uncomfortable around Jackson because he seems to know things about her that her grandmother would have been unable to tell him. But Jackson mentions a local legend about a fortune of diamonds hidden in Amber House, and offers to help Sarah find them. Even though Anne has already booked the family into a hotel, Sarah and Sammy conspire to force Anne to stay in the house for the few days they will be in town.
Soon Sarah is introduced to Senator Robert Hathaway and his teenaged son Richard. Richard knows more about Amber House than Sarah does, and tells her about Deirdre Foster, the mad wife of the sea captain who lost the diamonds in the 1700s. Richard claims it is Deirdre who haunts the estate. Meanwhile, inspired by Sarah and Richard's palpable connection, Anne comes up with the idea of celebrating Sarah's birthday, ten days off, with a masquerade ball. The event will be used to advertise the house before Anne puts it on the market.
As time goes on, Sarah finds herself spending many of her daytime hours with Richard, and many of her evening hours with Jackson. After Jackson rescues Sarah from an encounter with Deirdre Foster, Sarah confesses to seeing ghosts in Amber House. But Jackson explains that they aren't ghosts; according to Ida, they are what the house remembers, and the house tells its secrets only to the women of Sarah's family.
In the days leading up to her birthday, Sarah uses her new "gift" to piece together when and why Anne and Ida drifted apart. She uncovers secrets about the women in her family that suggest she is connected to both Jackson and Richard. And when the past seems to threaten Sarah and Sammy in the present, Sarah must use her gift to find the point where "past and future meet," before the ominous happenings at Amber House end in a fresh tragedy.
- Sarah Parsons is the narrator of the book. She turns sixteen on October 23. Sarah has the inexplicable ability to find her brother Sammy wherever he hides. While at Amber House, her mild psychic ability is seemingly heightened: she finds she has the family "gift" for seeing and sensing "echoes" from the past. She is emotionally distanced from her parents, but very fond of her ten-years-younger brother. She also becomes close to both Jackson Harris and Richard Hathaway while staying at Amber House. According to a guest at her grandmother's funeral, Sarah is the "spitting image" of her late grandmother Ida, who is described as blonde and blue-eyed.
- Sammy Parsons is five years old and on the autistim spectrum. He likes to play hide-and-seek, and develops a strange imaginary friend while at Amber House that he refers to as "No One."
- Anne Parsons (née McGuinness) is a gallery owner in Seattle, Washington. She is described by her daughter as auburn-haired and beautiful, but she is also a critical perfectionist who tends to drive away those closest to her. She was estranged from her late mother for reasons that Sarah never understood.
- 'Tom 'Parsons is a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. After getting "a little too close" to Sammy's pediatrician, he and Anne separated. He lives in Baltimore, while Anne and his children live in Seattle.
- Ida Warren McGuinness was Sarah's late grandmother. She was "emotional, mercurial, and deeply attached to her ancestral home." Ida's relationship with her daughter Anne was affected by Ida's alcoholism.
- Fiona Campbell Warren (née Webster) was Sarah's great-grandmother. Fiona was an eccentric who threw "wild parties ... and could tell your fortune with a deck of cards." Fiona was a gifted writer; a poet and historian, she utilized her visions to compose a comprehensive history of Amber House titled "A Place in Time." Her journals are found by Sarah and Jackson, who use them to piece together clues to the whereabouts of Captain Foster's lost diamonds. Fiona was committed to an asylum for a period of time due to her obsession with the house. She was also fixated on the myth of Persephone. She is described as being redheaded and vivacious.
- Captain Joseph Foster is Sarah's great-grandfather seven generations removed. He was a smuggler during the Revolution, and lost a fortune of diamonds in the late 1700s that is rumored to be hidden on the Amber House estate. His children with wife Deirdre were twins Sarah-Louise and Matthew Foster. He had an older daughter by a previous marriage.
- Deirdre Dobson Foster is Sarah's great-grandmother in the 1700s. Her father was a successful sea merchant who persuaded Deirdre to marry his business partner, Joseph Foster. Deirdre went insane, and Foster locked her away in the attic. Her spirit is rumored to haunt Amber House.
- Sarah-Louise Foster was the daughter of Captain Joseph Foster and Deirdre Foster. She was Matthew Foster's fraternal twin.
- Matthew Foster was the only son of Captain Joseph Foster and Deirdre Foster. Sarah discovers in her great-grandmother's journals that Matthew died in 1776 of tuberculosis.
- Nyangu was a slave at Amber House in the 1700s. She took care of Sarah-Louise and Matthew.
- Jackson Harris lives in a cottage adjacent to Amber House's property with his grandmother Rose. He was orphaned in a car accident when he was a toddler. The crash left him burned and scarred along his arm, torso and neck. It also triggered epilepsy. He is distantly related to Sarah through their mutual ancestor, Captain Joseph Foster. He is African American.
- Richard Hathaway is the son of family friend Senator Robert Hathaway. He is "beautiful" and good at everything he does. He is described as being tall, bronzed, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a crooked smile.
- Rose Valois is Jackson's grandmother. Rose was a nurse in Baltimore for twenty years, and took care of Sarah's grandmother when Ida became fatally ill. Rose's daughter, Cecelia, was a dancer in New York, but died in a car accident in the 1990s.
- Senator Robert Hathaway went to school with Anne Parsons. He agrees to help Anne host Sarah's sixteenth birthday party. He and Richard live near Amber House in a red brick Colonial.
- Nanga lives at Amber House in a small log cabin. She is related to Jackson. Jackson encourages Sarah to speak with Nanga, who knows about the family gift.
Critical reception for Amber House has been positive, with Kirkus Reviews praising Sarah and contrasting her with Twilight's Bella Swan.
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly described Amber House as a "complex tale of family secrets and lingering loss," and added:
- Lush descriptions and an intricate plot drive this intense tale, which straddles the lines between magical realism, fantasy, ghost stories, and horror, with a touch of romance and classic glamour. The result is something rich, strange, and utterly fascinating.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana also praised the book's plot in a starred review, saying its unexpected ending elevated it above the young adult genre.