What You Need to Know:|
• An intriguing mystery brings together two social outcasts who develop a very special relationship.
• The story takes place in Australia.
• There are the very beginnings of a romance here, including one kiss.
• There are a few references to the death of Leon’s mother and to his father’s excessive drinking.
• The Visconti House is the first novel for Elsbeth Edgar.
Growing up is complicated enough without moving to a new town. Add in a quirky, old house and it is a recipe for disaster. That’s where we meet fourteen-year old Laura Horton. She’s moved with her family from Melbourne to this run-down mansion in the country, and finds herself in unfamiliar territory, with only her book of dragon drawings and stories for company. Her lovingly distracted parents don’t understand her. She feels different in every way, from her appearance and her interests, to her artsy family and their unusual home. Laura struggles with the desire to fit in and the reluctance to give up her individuality. She doesn’t want to change, but she wishes she could find other people like her and her parents. Her self-doubt and lack of confidence make her an easy target for a few mean girls at school who seem to enjoy teasing her about her spooky house and anything else they can find.
Everything starts to change when the reticent Leon Murphy shows up in town. Although the rumors say that he’s moved in with his grandmother because his father is in jail, it turns out that he’s there because, after his mother had passed away, his father turned to alcohol to escape his despair. He doesn’t fit in either and, although Laura tries to avoid him at first, they slowly develop a common bond. It begins with their shared interest in Laura’s home and its original owner, Mr. Visconti. As they work together to solve the mystery of why he came to Australia to build this unusual house, they discover something about themselves. Slowly, we see Laura’s insecurities and Leon’s anger disappear. They find that they have similar interests and genuine feelings for each other. Their kind and caring friendship grows into a sweet romance. They help one another get through some difficult times, and, in the end, are both better off for having known each other.
I love the way their relationship develops, and how they learn to encourage and support each other. Interestingly, there are no references to cell phones, texting or pop culture, leaving the reader free to focus on the characters and their relationships. Despite the absence of those things, readers will have plenty to relate to, including the excitement of solving a mystery, the ups and downs of school life and the emotional pains of growing up. Adult concepts like death, alcohol and romance are touched upon, but in a completely age-appropriate way. I’m still not sure why Laura has a penchant for dragons or how her parents can be so clueless, but that doesn’t take away from their appeal. I hope we hear more from Elsbeth Edgar!
2011, 304 pages
Cliques/Popularity, Family Life, Friendship, Moving, Mystery, School, Self-Awareness/Discovery
• Why does Laura feel so unhappy at school?
• What does Laura do to try to fit in?
• Why do some kids make fun of those who are different?
• Should you act differently or try to change so that you can fit in with the cool crowd?
• Why do the girls at school start to be more accepting of her?
• How does searching for the history of the house bring Laura and Leon closer together?
• How is Leon different from Laura’s first impression of him?
• How do Laura and Leon help each other to find happiness?
• Will Leon and Laura remain friends? Why?
• What do you imagine happened in your house before you came to live there?
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