I read Zilpha Keatley Snyder's newest book, The Treasures of Weatherby, with interest, curious to see whether it would hold up in comparison to much-loved favorites of mine like The Velvet Room and The Changeling. The Treasures of Weatherby is, according to Snyder's foreword, "the big, old house story to end all big, old house stories." 12-year-old Harleigh Weatherby the Fourth (aka Harleigh Four, aka Hardly) lives with an assortment of relatives in an enormous, fascinating, crumbling, old house. His room is at the top of a high tower, a window-lined octagon with an "ornate tile floor and thick stone walls." Harleigh stands to inherit the house, being the next descendant after his aunt and father. Harleigh is well aware of his own importance. He's also much smaller than most kids his age, because of a health problem, with his quality of life only recently improved by surgery. Harleigh's self-importance and disconnectedness with others are evident in this early passage:
"The usual people were there to notice Harleigh's energetic entrance, and possibly realize how wrong they'd been when they'd suggested that sleeping in a tower could be dangerous to your health. Only three people, actually, because, not being a Weatherby, Matilda the cook didn't count." (Chapter 1)
It's clear that to Harleigh, the only people who "count" are direct descendant Weatherby family members. A variety of indirect descendants do live in the house, off in peripheral wings, but these lesser relations are of minimal interest to Harleigh. Harleigh is insufferable at the start, although the reader does feel for him, because of his health issues, and the way that kids in school, when he went to school, picked on him.
Exploring the tangled and neglected gardens of Weatherby House, which his illness has prevented him cataloging previously, Harleigh finds an abandoned tree-house. There, he meets a mysterious girl named Allegra, who might, just might, be able to fly. Allegra is fascinated by the house, and its inhabitants, and soon inspires Harleigh to a new level of interest, too. Allegra reminded me quite a bit of Ivy from The Changeling, someone who makes life more interesting for a sheltered child, and appears and disappears at will. (And, oh, how I wished that Ivy was a real person when I was young.)
In the remainder of the book Harleigh investigates a mystery concerned with the lost treasure of Weatherby House, tackles a long-overgrown maze, and alternates between curiosity about and frustration with Allegra. In the process of his adventures, he evolves and become a better person. Here's an early passage showing Harleigh's self-absorption:
"The candy was a chocolate bar. Harleigh really liked candy, but he didn't get it very often because Aunt Adelaide thought chocolate was habit-forming. Allegra broke the bar in two and let him pick which piece he wanted. At first that only added to his frustration, because it was broken so evenly it was hard to decide which one was biggest. And after he'd finally chosen, he was sure he'd made a mistake and picked the small one." (Chapter 7)
A bit strong, I think. And his personal growth from that point seemed suspiciously rapid. Despite my small quibble over Harleigh's personal growth, however, I enjoyed this book, and thought that it compared favorably to Snyder's earlier work. The Treasures of Weatherby has all the ingredients that made the original books so appealing: a mysterious old house filled with interesting treasures (the tower and the library being reminiscent of The Velvet Room), a beguiling girl with secrets, and a hint of what may or may not be supernatural (Can Allegra fly? Does she really hear the voices of ghosts in the house?). This dash of the occult reminds me of Snyder's books about the Stanley family, and the more famous The Egypt Game. The house is also very cool, an amalgam of the best features of the Professor's house in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Elizabeth Enright's Four-Story Mistake, and Colin's house in The Secret Garden. (I thought of the latter after reading Darla's comparison of Harleigh with Colin in another review.)
What I can't tell you is whether The Treasures of Weatherby has the same magic to it that I found many years ago in The Changeling, The Velvet Room and The Green Sky trilogy. Part of the magic of those books, for me, was my own mindset when I read them. It's difficult to get that wide-eyed, diving into a set of books feeling back as an adult. I think what I would say is that The Treasures of Weatherby gave me hints of that feeling, but I haven't fallen in love with it the way I did (and remain) with those books. I would be interested to see which of the books a twelve-year-old today, reading them all for the first time, would prefer.
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 2006
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Chasing Ray (part of an article about the lure of mysterious houses), Books & Other Thoughts
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.