Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

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Text Publishing, 2016. ISBN 9781925355031
(Age: 10-14) Highly recommended. I love stories with gothic houses and strange happenings and was thrilled to read Elizabeth and Zenobia. Elizabeth and her brave friend Zenobia arrive at Witheringe House where they find wallpaper that seems to be alive, a book that tells a different story each night and a weird gardener who is obsessed with grafting plants. Zenobia is fascinated by it all, but Elizabeth is not so courageous and she is fearful of what she will find in the forbidden East Wing where the nursery walls are covered with a wallpaper that has vines and flowers encroaching everywhere. When she discovers that she once had an aunt Tourmaline, who no one has seen for years, she goes on a quest to find out what happened to her.
The reader is immediately dragged into the unique life of Elizabeth. They discover that her friend Zenobia is invisible and that her mother has left her and her father for another man. Her father is remote and Elizabeth often feels invisible, but Zenobia is the crutch that she can hold on to when she is feeling frightened. Zenobia is fearless and goes exploring in forbidden places. She reads difficult books about clairvoyance and poisons and she dares Elizabeth to overcome her fears.
One of the fabulous challenges of the story is working out what belongs to Elizabeth's imagination and what is real. How does Mrs Purswell, the housekeeper, manage to appear so silently? Is the wallpaper alive? Does Zenobia really do all the tasks that Elizabeth describes or is it Elizabeth?
I found myself thinking about this book for days after I read it and had to re-read the last chapter in an effort to work out what had happened.
This would be a wonderful book to hand to children who are imaginative and creative. It would raise numerous questions when read in a literature circle. Readers would also have fun finding out about the person Zenobia was named after and researching some of the things that Zenobia was so interested in. Teacher's notes are available.
Pat Pledger