Isn't it nice when you go to your local library, where you've been a hundred times before, and happen across books that you really want to read, that suddenly poke their spines out at you? This happened to me last week, when I found The Treasures of Weatherby, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder* (2007, Atheneum Books, 213pp, middle grade).
It promised an old, enormous house, with an overgrown garden (I'm a sucker for overgrown gardens), and lost treasure, where a lonely boy (Harleigh J. Weatherby IV) wanders at loose ends among eccentric relatives until one day a girl flies over the wall...
Well, Allegra doesn't actually fly, in the fantastical sense of the word. But her fascination with Harleigh's extraordinarily huge and ornate house, and the thought of the lost family treasure, awaken a like interest in his mind. The only problem is that his great-aunt Adelaide has forbidden any of the relatives to ever have visitors. This does not deter Allegra, who, Harleigh is somewhat dismayed to find, will stop at nothing to enter the house.
Before Allegra, Harleigh's life was pretty empty. His heart condition had stunted his growth, and he was tormented at pubic school as a result. Homeschooled by an elderly uncle, neglected by his globe trotting father, he wandered the huge house like a disinterested ghost. Allegra's enthusiasm for both the house and its inhabitants, however, is contagious, and soon the two children are racing to solve the mystery of the family treasure before a sinister, metal-detecting cousin can get his hands on it.
It's a satisfying story, interesting in its plot, characters, and setting. Hareligh's evolution from self-centered withdrawal to engaged awareness is very satisfying, and the mysteries of both the treasure and Allegra's identity keep the pages turning at a brisk pace. A good one, perhaps, for the kid who loved the A-Z mysteries last year and now has the confidence to tackle weightier stuff. Which is to say, I'll be giving this one to my oldest next year, when he's in fourth grade.
(I thought, at first, that the jacket of the book said "illustrated by Lemony Snicket." Checking more carefully, after failing to find any pictures inside, I see that it actually reads: "Loathed by Lemony Snicket." I am not quite sure what to make of this).
Exciting News for Snyder Fans: Three of her early books, The Velvet Room, The Changeling, and Black and Blue Magic, are back in print. So is her science fiction trilogy, which I highly recommend- Below the Root, And All Between, and Until the Celebration.