Laura Horton is different. Not in any noticeable, first-glance kind of way; but inside, she’s equally uncomfortable around the snippy girls in her class and the strange boy, Leon, who just moved in nearby. She’d rather be writing or drawing or spending time with her free-spirited family in their eccentric old house. But Laura and Leon are more alike than they first realize. They’re both outsiders. They both have secrets. And try as she might to avoid him, Laura finds herself drawn to Leon’s quiet boldness as surely as she is driven to find out more about her home’s enigmatic former owner. Together they probe the mysteries of the Visconti House, making an exploration into the past that will change their lives — and open their hearts — forever.
Two lonely teens forge an unexpected bond — and a first romance — as they unravel a mystery hidden inside the walls of an old estate.
You can read an excerpt here.
What a quiet, lovely book. From the forgotten history of an old Italian-style mansion, to teenage social embarrassment and the overwhelming desire to hide or fit in, this book really struck a chord with me.
Lately I’ve been feeling more and more that most high school set books, overwhelmed by paranormal plotting and breathless True Love, have been overlooking the interesting stories to be found in the meat and bones of being a teenager – so you can imagine my delight at finding in The Visconti House an answer to my discontent. In many ways this is a simple story, and very much a MG one, but it is also rich with social texture – I really enjoyed how Laura squirms beneath the lens of social pressure, and how embarrassed she is, by herself and by Leon, and how that embarrassment leads her to act in ways that aren’t always laudatory. Those insecurities are so recognizable, and so perfectly spot on, that it’s impossible not to relate to Laura – we all know that desire to hide, to blend in, to belong, and let’s face it, under social pressure we’ve all done or said something we wish we hadn’t. Edgar just nails those moments, when identity is so uncertain and the fear of social ostracization so high. Laura’s discomfort with getting to know Leon wasn’t particularly flattering, but it rings so very, very true.
This story does very much revolve around the Visconti house, and the house is as much of a character as Laura or Leon. Edgar paints a vivid, fascinating portrait of an aging mansion from a different era, one that stands out from the rest of the town in the same way that Laura and her family do. The house imparts a wonderful atmosphere of tantalizing history, such that it just brims and overflows with hints of a forgotten past and you can’t help but want to explore it.
As far as the mystery goes, it’s a fairly straightforward series of reveals, but they come at a deliberate and engaging pace, and the nuggets of discovery easily kept my interest. The story that slowly takes shape, about the history of the Visconti house and the strange and lonely man who built it, is just effortlessly affecting, and it echoes throughout the present day story in lovely ways.
I very much enjoyed the growing relationship between Laura and Leon – it was never overblown or overdone, and it developed slowly and naturally, built on shared interests and little moments. It was lovely to see an understated attraction given room and time to grow.
From exploring the nooks and crannies of an old house steeped in history and uncovering a forgotten past, to two teens learning to enjoy their places outside the norm, The Visconti House just makes for a nice, satisfying read. And so often “nice” is employed condescendingly, or to damn with faint praise, but when I call this a nice story, I mean it in the best sense – it actually reminds me of when I was a kid, back when I loved nothing more than to watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood; this book gave me that same, half-forgotten sense of being utterly hypnotized by a story that requires no action or special effects.
With its sense of discovery and pitch perfect teenage moments, The Visconti House is a quietly mesmerizing kind of story – the type of story we see far too seldom.
Byrt Grade: A-/B+
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
In Edgar’s hands Laura’s house almost lives and breathes as Visconti’s life is revealed; her evocative writing and inviting characters will draw readers in to this gentle examination of acceptance, diversity, and self-esteem.
The Visconti House is a middle grade mystery that will please any amateur sleuth. Its pacing is a perfect blend of baffles and excitement. Answers aren’t revealed too easily but there aren’t any frustrating wild goose chases either. Personally, I found the ultimate reveal a little tame but I don’t think children will have the same problem.
Elsbeth Edgar has a talent for captivating the reader, especially in the parts of the book in which Laura is searching for evidence about Mr. Visconti’s heartbreaking story. The Visconti House provides the intrigue of a middle schooler’s journey through loss, discovery and hope.