Elizabeth and Zenobia

A gothic ghost story combines with a journey of self-discovery as Elizabeth and Zenobia explore the history and haunting occupants of their new home in Witheringe House. This is a tale which is wonderfully spun in vivid language and captivating imagery, but with plenty of humour and emotional moments as well. Jessica Millar’s great skill in this text is to deal with some very big issues of family, love, loss and recovery but never with any sense of artificial moralism or patronising platitudes. As with many of Faber’s children’s novels the book is presented beautifully with a feel and texture which will be attractive to young readers.

There is some darkness in the story, and some genuinely spine-tingling moments which may need to be approached with caution for readers at the lower end of its age group. Some parents may also feel concerned that the imaginary magical elements of the story mingle with some real occultist practices such as necromancy and the use of a ouija board. These are, however, peripheral details in a story which will help children think through the big emotions that can so often be theirs, and some of the ways in which those feelings can be worked through in a healthy way.

A compelling yarn, richly imagined and beautifully told, which will reward multiple re-reads as each ‘reveal’ prompts new understanding of the plot and the characters’ experience of it.