Title: ELIZABETH AND ZENOBIA
Author: Jessica Miller
Genre: Middle Grade
I received a free eARC of ELIZABETH AND ZENOBIA by Jessica Miller from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
When Elizabeth and her unusual and fearless friend Zenobia arrive at Witheringe House, peculiar things begin to happen.
Especially in the forbidden East Wing.
The flowers and vines of the wallpaper sometimes seem to be alive.
A mirror has a surface like the water of a pond.
And an old book tells a different story after midnight.
Zenobia is thrilled by the strangeness, but Elizabeth is not so bold…
Until she makes a mysterious and terrifying discovery.
This is a strange book.
The tale starts with Elizabeth, her father, and her friend, Zenobia, riding a train to their new home which is actually Elizabeth’s father’s family home. It’s established pretty quickly that Elizabeth is the only person who can actually see or hear Zenobia. I kept expecting that to be explained (is she imaginary? A ghost?) but unfortunately, Miller never does explain Zenobia’s mysterious origins or why Elizabeth is the only one who can interact with her. There are a few scenes that point to Zenobia being either a ghost (the room going cold) or a poltergeist (especially with the way she treats Elizabeth’s governess), but nothing is ever made concrete about her.
There’s not a whole lot of world building period, if I’m honest. We’re told that Elizabeth’s mother has unexpectedly run away with her opera singer boyfriend and while Elizabeth mentions her mother’s departure several times, we don’t get a clue about the family dynamic before. Her father is clearly neglectful but we don’t know if he’s always been like that or if his wife’s betrayal has sent him into a depression.
The story itself, though, is pretty clever and there is a little mystery and magic involved. All of the mystery surrounds her father’s first book- a book that has a dedication to someone her father has never mentioned and has mysterious handwritten pages that only appear at midnight, telling the story of the Plant Kingdom and the little girl the King and Queen want to make their princess… through any means necessary.
While a very short story, it was still enjoyable and even though I wish Miller had given us more information on Zenobia and Elizabeth’s family, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading this little middle grade book!
Definitely recommend this to anyone who likes a lighter “dark middle grade” book.