The name Zenobia popped out at me from the offerings of advance reading copies. Aunt Nobie (short for Zenobia) was a favorite relative when I was growing up – more about her in the next blog. I had seen chats about Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller from book people, but it was the name that caused me to push “Request” on Net Galley’s website.
A line from the first page of this middle grade novel let me know I was in for a treat, “I have always paid attention to words and the way they fill my ears. There are words I could hear over and over again, like seashell. And there are other words, like custard, that make my stomach flip.” Elizabeth’s affinity for words and her long list of things she found fearful matched mine. However, the only experience I’ve had with imaginary friends came when I had to supply treats for my oldest son’s buddies (four as I remember).
Which brings us to Zenobia’s disclaimers. She can’t be an imaginary friend simply because someone as dull as Elizabeth would be incapable of dreaming her up. She also is not a ghost but a Spirit Presence. As Elizabeth and her father move back to his morbid childhood home, Zenobia’s antics promise to keep nervous Elizabeth in trouble, but maybe they will also answer questions about why the East Wing is forbidden territory, what happened to an aunt Elizabeth did not know existed, and why her father is so distant.
Normally preferring reality to the supernatural in books, I found myself caught up in the story and scrolling rapidly down the pages as I read on my computer. The writer for The Horn Book for Sept/Oct 2017 had the same reaction, and the magazine gave it a starred review. This is a book for anyone able to suspend disbelief in Spirit Presences, anyone who loves a good story, and especially anyone who has once loved a very real imaginary friend.
Without giving anything away, note was taken near the end of the book that Zenobia was a rather uncommon name. You’ll find my take on that in next Monday’s blog.