The Visconti House (Junior Library Guild Selection (Candlewick Press)) Hardcover – February 22, 2011
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From School Library Journal
- Publisher : Candlewick (February 22, 2011)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0763650196
- ISBN-13 : 978-0763650193
- Reading age : 9 - 12 years
- Lexile measure : 650L
- Grade level : 4 - 7
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 1.06 x 8.13 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,176,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Fourteen-year-old Laura Horton doesn't quite fit in. She lives in a crumbling mansion that everyone calls "the haunted house," and she has more in common with her parents' eccentric artist friends than with the girls at school. So when loner Leon Murphy moves in next door, Laura avoids him at first; she doesn't need anything else different or weird in her life. But when Laura becomes obsessed with uncovering the history of her house -- the Visconti House--she finds that Leon understands her need to know what happened to the lonely Italian gentleman who built it. Together, Laura and Leon begin to unearth the mansion's history, a history of elegant dances, thwarted love, and secret rooms. In their quest for the truth, the unlikely pair forms a deep friendship. But will their friendship, sparked by a shared interest in the past, survive in the present?
The story takes place in Australia, a fact that seems unimportant at first, the experiences of Laura and Leon could happen almost anywhere. Being different is a topic that many kids can relate to as well as adults. But the location becomes more significant when Laura starts investigating the history of the house. there are several things that I especially liked about this book. First, I love the fact that the author seamlessly integrates the idea that history is not boring and can indeed be fascinating, especially when one gets down to the individual level. Many of the kids that I work with at school think history is boring. Another thing I really liked was the gradual development of friendship between Laura and Leon. Like most friendships, it has its ups and downs. I highly recommend this book, especially as a read-a-loud.
On the first day of the new school term, Laura is surprised to discover that her neighbor Mrs. Murphy has her grandson living with her. It only takes one glance for Laura to realize that Leon Murphy is destined to be even more of an outsider than she is and she resolves to have nothing to do with him. Hanging around with this odd boy will only make Laura seem even weirder in the eyes of her peers. That vow proves difficult to keep when a chance remark by Leon's grandmother starts the pair off on a quest to discover the truth about the man who built Laura's house.
The Visconti House isn't a book that's going to set the world on fire but it is a nice little read. It's especially suited for those who like a mystery, but anyone who's ever felt like they don't belong will recognize Laura's dilemma and delight in her discovery that one true friend, the kind who likes you just as you are, can make all the difference in the world.
Slow, Shallow, and Slightly Sweet
First things first: The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar definitely belongs in the young adult section-with a heavy emphasis on the "young."
Although the main character Laura is fourteen years old, she bears little resemblance to any fourteen year old that I've ever met. But The Visconti House is a story about being different, so I'll give Laura the benefit of the doubt. Let's just say she's a young fourteen.
Laura suffers from the misfortune of having been forced to move with her family to a new town and into a "haunted house." Of course, she doesn't know many people, so she feels like she doesn't belong. But her parents are bustling artists who love her (and she's never ever mad at them for making her move). And her "haunted house" is a beautiful old mansion on the outskirts of town (with beautiful gardens that she loves).
Although it's clear that Laura feels like she doesn't fit in at her new school, it's often puzzling why she feels so sorry for herself. Sure, none of the other girls want to talk about Laura's love of writing, and Laura has no interest in their conversations about make-up. And sometimes they tease her, although mostly in good fun. But Laura is quite self-conscious, which I suppose we all are at fourteen. She longs for just one friend who will really understand her.
Enter the mysterious Leon. He's new too, so no one knows much about him. But he wears a scowl and doesn't care if others tease him. Rumor is his dad is a convict. Plus, he's a math prodigy. And he sticks up for Laura.
Laura wants nothing to do with him because he's even more different than she is. Still, the two slowly become friends as Laura begins to investigate the mystery behind her mansion, the Visconti House (why exactly it's considered haunted is never really explained). As Laura uncovers why the lonely old gentleman Visconti built the beautiful house, she simultaneously begins to unravel the mystery behind Leon.
Both mysteries eventually reveal sweet stories. Mr. Visconti built the house for his one true love, then lost her to illness before she could move in. Leon's dad is not a convict but suffering from a broken heart. Leon lost his mother to a car accident. The rolling undercurrent of the story is loss, but also resilience to carry on. It is no surprise when Laura admires this in Leon and the two grow closer. Finally, Laura has someone who accepts and understands her.
But wait. Laura is still ashamed to be seen with Leon because he's different. Gasp! (Yes, she's still struggling with being different even after learning so many lessons!) And people notice. Shocking! At this point, Laura's immaturity is just plain annoying as the reader waits for what we know is inevitable: that Laura and Leon will eventually get together.
Still, I suppose we've all acted younger than our age, felt self-consciously different, and acted against our best self-interests. But The Visconti House isn't a deep novel that explores the complicated motivations of being a teenager (and beyond). Instead it's a slow moving but sweet story (if rather predictable) about a girl who finally figures out it's okay to be different. It's the perfect story for say, your younger sister to enjoy before she's a teenager. Shh. We won't tell her just how tumultuous those years actually are, and this book certainly won't give it away!