Jessica Miller’s Elizabeth and Zenobia Exemplifies Gothic MG

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

Elizabeth and Zenobia coverFormat/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: September 2017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Middle grade gothic
Rating: ★★★★
GoodReads Indigo | IndieBound | Wordery
I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my 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.

Here is a spooky middle grade tale I can get behind! There is a countryside estate that’s been boarded up for some years, there is an overgrown garden and labyrinth, there is a distant father with a mysterious past. While the story doesn’t scare, not in the way of Coraline or The Nest, it uses a handful of gothic tropes to create its own tense and atmospheric moments. Miller writes well for this genre. Her descriptions aren’t too flowery, yet they are creative enough to set an evocative scene. What really brings the setting and story to life, however, are the delightful cast of characters.

Elizabeth and Zenobia play off each wonderfully. Miller gives each a distinct voice. If I described both girls, I might make them sound like caricatures, but they come across as believable young girls. Elizabeth makes for a unique protagonist in these kind of stories – she is not a daring and adventurous child. Zenobia is brash and bold; Elizabeth is scared of many things. Zenobia wants to contact the spirits she assumes inhabit Witheringe House; Elizabeth would rather not. And a similarity – Zenobia can only be seen Elizabeth; Elizabeth wishes her father would see her better. Zenobia’s eager tendency towards the gruesome also helps shape the darker tone of the story. They are the best of friends, and the story explores how they navigate that friendship when their personalities clash. While the plot takes some time to show itself, I found the daily interactions of Elizabeth and Zenobia in their creepy new home entertaining enough.

In addition to Elizabeth and Zenobia, there is a housekeeper whose ability to appear without warning greatly impresses Zenobia and serves as a running gag. There is a tutor who is not the antagonist of the story. And there are a few more characters that I’ll leave you to discover…

My primary criticism lies in the ending. I felt the story concluded abruptly. The mystery surrounding Zenobia never receives an explicit explanation. I like stories neatly wrapped up at the end, though I am coming to learn that’s not always necessary. Zenobia’s nature being revealed was never a promise of the main story line (though I crossed my toes hoping it would come up). The illustrations were not at all to my taste. I tried to be forgiving – “Maybe they’re meant to look like they’re drawn by a kid…” – but personally, I just think they’re bad. Edit (Oct. 13): I did not think to consider that the illustrations were not finalized in my ARC. (As a blogger who’s been reviewing ARCs for awhile, I am a little embarrassed…). Thank-you to the author for politely pointing this out to me. I have since purchased the book and am happy to report that the illustrations are much more tidy and refined, yet they still retain a quirky quality that’s very appropriate to the story and characters.

The Bottom Line:

A delightful tale of friendship between two very different young girls, Elizabeth and Zenobia is an example of Victorian Gothic middle grade fiction that other books could look up to.

Further Reading:

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August and September 2017 Month in Review

August and September Month in Review

October is here! Oh, how I love this month. Autumn seems even better here in Vancouver than in Winnipeg. The air is crisp, the sun is bright, the leaves are changing to all sorts of marvelous colours, and I can see mountains from my house. I can’t wait until my couch finally arrives next week and I can cozy up with a blanket, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book.

In the post announcing my hiatus, I said “Look for me in October”. I have been giving some thought to whether the hiatus should continue in October, now that I have an idea of how much of my time coursework eats up. I have found the readings and assignments to be very reasonably paced. The catch with October is that I am spending two weekends travelling, so I am losing a lot of time there. I’ve decided to remain on semi-hiatus. What does that mean? I will be checking in more with everyone on Twitter, trying to comment on a few blogs, and posting maybe once a week here. I wrote a couple post in the past few weeks and they reminded me how much I enjoy blogging. I’m eager to get back into it, but will have to be careful not to mix up my priorities… TL;DR: I’ll be active again the book blogging world, but won’t be posting on a schedule or reading your blogs as much as usual. 

Books Finished

  • Patina by Jason Reynolds (Track #2)
  • The Painting by Charis Cotter
  • Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller
  • Strangers by David A. Robertson (The Reckoner #1)
  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Books Reviewed

Features

Happening in October

  • 1 Oct – Publication of Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar (middle grade novel about a young girl and her mother’s involvement in Gandhi’s protests for India independence)
  • 3 Oct – Publication of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (put this one on my TBR after reading the author interview in this month’s Goodreads newsletter) and Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (ee, I’m sure this will be gorgeous)
  • 10 Oct – Publication of Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (do I need to say anything about this one? I’ve been a vlogbrothers fan since 2007 so while I’m not as excited about a new JG novel as I was as a teen, I’m still looking forward to this.) and The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (the excellent picture book duo strike again!)
  • 13 Oct – Publication of From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty (I had never planned to read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, her book about working in a crematorium, but I did and enjoyed it, so this also book interests.
  • 21 Oct Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, 10th anniversary! Reader sign-ups open now. Wish I could participate, but I’ll be in Seattle (attending a Depeche Mode concert, so can’t really complain :P)
  • 31 Oct  – Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (the book I mentioned in Diversity Spotlight #4)

I’ve been disconnected from the blogging community for awhile. What books have you been enjoying? What posts have I missed out on? Please leave me a link in the comments!

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Cybils 2017

Cybils 2017

Today nominations open for the Cybils Awards. The Cybils are the Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards. The award “aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal”.

How to Participate

Nominations will remain open from today until 15 October. Anyone can nominate a book (one nomination per category). There are 10 categories, ranging from board books to graphic novels to young adult speuclative fiction. Nominated books must be 1) published in Canada or the USA, 2) between 16 October 2016 and 15 October 2017, and 3) written in English. Books don’t need multiple nominations to make the cut. If you nominate it, it will be considered! You can find out more about nominating at the Cybils website.

My Role

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Cybils as a panelist for middle grade fiction. This year, I will be participating as a judge for middle-grade speculative fiction, my favourite genre 🙂 This means I will be part of the second round group that selects a finalist from the shortlist created by the round one panelists. I am honored and excited to work with a group of book bloggers who are experts in the genre. Be sure to check out their blogs.

Have you read any books this year that you think are worth nominating?

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