TITLE: Elizabeth and Zenobia
AUTHOR: Jessia Miller
PUBLISHER: Text Publishing
RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2016
GENRE: Junior Fiction, Fantasy
PAGE COUNT: 232
Elizabeth and Zenobia is Aussie author, Jessica Miller’s wickedly clever debut. Although it nods to familiar fantasy tropes, it forges its own unique vision.
Elizabeth and her imaginary friend Zenobia are moving to Witheringe Green, her father’s childhood home. But there is much more to this old house than meets the eye. When family secrets lead to even stranger mysteries, Elizabeth must face her fears and save her family from otherworldly danger.
Elizabeth is our first person narrator. Unlike the fearless Zenobia, she is scared of almost everything, including but not limited to swooping seagulls, hardboiled eggs, and gloves without hands in them. Ever since her mother ran off with an opera singer, Elizabeth has longed for her botanist father to notice her.
Zenobia is Elizabeth’s best (and supposedly imaginary) friend. With an unhealthy penchant for the macabre, she is Elizabeth’s polar opposite. Her current obsession is clairvoyance, and she’s determined to contact spirit presences at Witheringe Green.
For a start, Zenobia is pale. Very pale. Almost translucent in direct sunlight. And the irises of her eyes are black as tar. There’s a faintness about her that makes it hard to tell where she ends and the rest of the world begins. And when she’s upset or irritated, strange things – unnatural things – have a tendency to happen. It’s like the thought-reading: she can’t exactly help it. Or, at least, she says she can’t – page 9
The dynamic between Elizabeth and Zenobia is natural and compelling. The novelty of Zenobia’s powers doesn’t dominate the story. In fact, she’s extremely well-developed for a supporting character and seems to believe the world revolves around her. Despite their constant conflict, Zenobia is exactly the sort of person Elizabeth needs to drive her emotional developmental arc.
The imaginative vision of this book is crystal clear and well maintained throughout. Every detail adds to the story, with no word wasted in building a believable world around the two girls. Although the time period is never mentioned, I still gained a sense of a more old-fashioned setting through the vocabulary. However, the storytelling still felt fresh and I loved how easily I slipped into the pace and style.
I enjoyed how the story shared tropes from fairytales such as Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Thumbelina, and Theseus and the Minotaur. However, rather than using these references as crutches for her plot, they stand out as loving nods to the stories that defined the genre.
Friendship, acceptance, and bravery are hardly groundbreaking themes. But Jessica Miller makes everything new and exciting. Tired old tropes are revitalised in this children’s book that can be enjoyed by any age reader.