Abandoned by her mother and neglected by her scientist father, timid Elizabeth Murmur has only her fearless friend, Zenobia, for company. And Zenobia’s company can be very trying! When Elizabeth’s father takes them to live in his family home, Witheringe House, Zenobia becomes obsessed with finding a ghost in the creepy old mansion and forces Elizabeth to hold séances and wander the rooms at night. With Zenobia’s constant pushing, Elizabeth investigates the history of the house and learns that it does hold a terrible secret: Her father’s younger sister disappeared from the grounds without a trace years ago.
Elizabeth and Zenobia is a wonderfully compelling middle-grade story about friendship, courage, and the power of the imagination.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Eerie content
Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 4-7. Elizabeth’s best friend Zenobia (others might claim she’s imaginary, but she’s vividly real to Elizabeth) is utterly convinced there’s a ghost at Witheringe House, and she’s determined to use all her divining skills to find it. Elizabeth is terrified at the prospect, but she joins the hunt anyway, especially after mysterious pages of a fairy tale about a magical kingdom of plants appear in a book only at midnight, and she learns about her father’s late sister, Tourmaline, who disappeared from Witheringe House at age seven. Elizabeth and Zenobia’s polar-opposite personalities make the mood pretty playful at the beginning, but debut author Miller keeps the story certifiably eerie, thanks to a creepy gardener, weed-choked hedge maze, and mutating wallpaper in the abandoned nursery. As Elizabeth gets braver and more insistent on finding Tourmaline, Miller amplifies the wondrous-yet-weird elements of Witheringe House until they snowball into ghastly, creeping nightmares. Her spare, evocative language and direct sentences contribute to the suspenseful pacing, particularly toward the end, when the Plant Kingdom gets truly invasive. Comical characters, ghost story tropes, and a lively pair of intrepid protagonists help keep this spooky novel from getting too scary, and Bryksenkova’s faux-naïf illustrations contribute. Fans of Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest (2015) will appreciate this similarly atmospheric, haunting tale.
Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Debut novelist Miller concocts a blend of Gothic horror and spine-tingling mystery. Elizabeth feels lonely and forgotten when her father moves her to his ancestral home, Witheringe House, after her mother abandons the two of them. At least best friend Zenobia has come along, though with her contrary nature, Zenobia is not exactly a comfort. She’s also not exactly real. That is, not to anyone except Elizabeth. Aussie Miller sets her tale in the gauzy nebulousness of the early 20th century, delivering a stunning slow burn full of creepy atmospheric tension and heartbreaking loneliness. The back-and-forth dialogue between Elizabeth and her imaginary companion is laced with tension—give and take—illustrating the tumultuous extremes of Elizabeth’s psyche. Add a family nursery and wallpaper gardens in which the plant life appears real, a family cemetery, plus an alter ego in search of spirits from beyond and an ending as unpredictable as the beginning or middle—and what readers get is a fascinating tale that feels like Edgar Allen Poe, revisited. Miller’s painstaking crafting of language and attention to atmospheric detail create a clever story where nothing is as it seems. Drawings reminiscent of Gorey and references to gloomy classic poetry add beguiling texture. Eerie and dazzling—a perfect book for a dark and stormy afternoon or a favorite graveyard reading spot. (Horror. 9-13)
About the Author
Jessica Miller is a children’s writer and PhD student from Brisbane, Australia. She currently lives in Germany. Elizabeth and Zenobia is her first novel.
Around the Web
Elizabeth and Zenobia on Amazon
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Elizabeth and Zenobia Publisher Page