Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

Hardcover, 208 pages
Published September 19th 2017 by Harry N. Abrams
Source: Publisher

Fact: What initially attracted me to this novel was the cover. What can I say? Covers work their magic on me.

Elizabeth and Zenobia has a certain old school charm that you will recognize if you read Enid Blyton or The Chalet School during your formative years. The novel focuses on Elizabeth, a rather retiring sort, and her not-so-invisible friend, Zenobia. After her mother abandons her family, Elizabeth’s father slips into a depression and moves Elizabeth from her home in the city to a house that has been in his family for years.

There, Elizabeth and Zenobia discover the existence of a disappeared aunt and rather sinister foliage. The novel is slim with a quick pace that will please readers. Elizabeth’s dad sounds ghastly but perhaps he can be excused–or maybe not. It all depends on who is doing the forgiving, honestly.

The primary conflict fascinated me because it is not very often that nature and growing things are cast in antagonist roles in books, especially those intended for children. I can’t say more than this without spoiling the story, I’m afraid, but I reckon an academic would have fun deconstructing the attitudes, particularly toward nature, coded in the subtext of this novel.

The one thing that did give me pause was how Zenobia’s existence is, if not explained, than fleshed out. Readers don’t get answers to important questions like who is Zenobia, is she real or a figment of Elizabeth’s imagination, and if she is real, what is she? I feel like even a slight attempt at answering these questions would have made the novel a richer one.

That said, I did have fun reading Elizabeth and Zenobia. The novel would be perfect for younger middle graders.