Slow, Shallow, and Slightly Sweet
First things first: The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar definitely belongs in the young adult section–with a heavy emphasis on the “young.”
Although the main character Laura is fourteen years old, she bears little resemblance to any fourteen year old that I’ve ever met. But The Visconti House is a story about being different, so I’ll give Laura the benefit of the doubt. Let’s just say she’s a young fourteen.
Laura suffers from the misfortune of having been forced to move with her family to a new town and into a “haunted house.” Of course, she doesn’t know many people, so she feels like she doesn’t belong. But her parents are bustling artists who love her (and she’s never ever mad at them for making her move). And her “haunted house” is a beautiful old mansion on the outskirts of town (with beautiful gardens that she loves).
Although it’s clear that Laura feels like she doesn’t fit in at her new school, it’s often puzzling why she feels so sorry for herself. Sure, none of the other girls want to talk about Laura’s love of writing, and Laura has no interest in their conversations about make-up. And sometimes they tease her, although mostly in good fun. But Laura is quite self-conscious, which I suppose we all are at fourteen. She longs for just one friend who will really understand her.
Enter the mysterious Leon. He’s new too, so no one knows much about him. But he wears a scowl and doesn’t care if others tease him. Rumor is his dad is a convict. Plus, he’s a math prodigy. And he sticks up for Laura.
Laura wants nothing to do with him because he’s even more different than she is. Still, the two slowly become friends as Laura begins to investigate the mystery behind her mansion, the Visconti House (why exactly it’s considered haunted is never really explained). As Laura uncovers why the lonely old gentleman Visconti built the beautiful house, she simultaneously begins to unravel the mystery behind Leon.
Both mysteries eventually reveal sweet stories. Mr. Visconti built the house for his one true love, then lost her to illness before she could move in. Leon’s dad is not a convict but suffering from a broken heart. Leon lost his mother to a car accident. The rolling undercurrent of the story is loss, but also resilience to carry on. It is no surprise when Laura admires this in Leon and the two grow closer. Finally, Laura has someone who accepts and understands her.
But wait. Laura is still ashamed to be seen with Leon because he’s different. Gasp! (Yes, she’s still struggling with being different even after learning so many lessons!) And people notice. Shocking! At this point, Laura’s immaturity is just plain annoying as the reader waits for what we know is inevitable: that Laura and Leon will eventually get together.
Still, I suppose we’ve all acted younger than our age, felt self-consciously different, and acted against our best self-interests. But The Visconti House isn’t a deep novel that explores the complicated motivations of being a teenager (and beyond). Instead it’s a slow moving but sweet story (if rather predictable) about a girl who finally figures out it’s okay to be different. It’s the perfect story for say, your younger sister to enjoy before she’s a teenager. Shh. We won’t tell her just how tumultuous those years actually are, and this book certainly won’t give it away!
Blythe Robbins, a Californian living in New York City, is a geeky editor by day. At night, she can be found reading or writing YA fiction.