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The Visconti House


The Visconti House

Laura Horton is an insecure eighth-grader and a newcomer to a small town in a tight-knit Australian community. Her family has only just moved into a place called "The Visconti House," an authentic Italian villa named for its original owner. Mr. Visconti has been dead for years but remains the subject of many vicious rumors and ill-humored gossip. He was odd and older and alone. To this day, the Hortons enjoy various remnants of Visconti's excellent taste and peculiar personality, yet to Laura, living in the old house seems good proof that they may all be a little bit odd.

Laura's parents are both eccentric artists who have chosen to live their lives based on a particular vision of potential. They bought Visconti's house on a whim, finding it to be functional, inspiring and quite charming. Originally they had intended to fix it up, though they are now finding that the house is perfect just the way it is. Laura disagrees at first, seeing it as not really functional at all. She notices the windows are not airtight, and the walls are beginning to peel and age. Yet many relics of Visconti survive, which give it a distinctive flavor of old-world Italy. Priceless artifacts lie around in various hiding places and boxes, obviously originating from Europe and including elaborate draperies, varied and colorful murals, and works of art. To one without vision, the Hortons' drastic move to such an oddly designed estate might seem overconfident or simply foolish. Laura does feel at first that her parents have behaved a bit flighty in their decision making, leaving her worried that she's been left at odds with everyone in the community.

Another irredeemably odd newcomer in town is Leon, a math prodigy who stands alone and thus has few friends. Leon is brilliant and, contrary to his nerdy persona, seems a bit aggressive as well. Right away, Laura notices that he's been bloodied and bruised in brawls at school, and he's made it clear that he isn't looking for any new friends. Seeing that he has few prospects in the tightly guarded social cliques that make up Laura's school, no one seems to have even bothered to speak to him before. Laura is no exception, being cowardly enough to do nothing about the vicious rumors that circulate about Leon thanks to her fickle group of friends. Leon bears this gossip quietly, while Laura is disturbed to find that her sulky friends not only verbally abuse Leon but turn their harsh judgment on her as well.

But while Laura doesn't appreciate the negative attitude of her peers, she finds that fitting in is important enough to her that she doesn't dare make herself an outsider in any way. This remains the case until she becomes absorbed in the mystery of the old Visconti house, finding tidbits about a tragic love story hidden in the walls of the mansion. Evidence of Visconti's distinctive vision and lonely life lie waiting to be uncovered. Laura becomes curious enough about him to ask around with her neighbors, and one woman who does know something of his story is Leon's grandmother. Because of their mutual interest, Laura finally meets Leon outside of school and finds that they have more in common than they initially realized. The two begin spending time together --- but only out of class --- and become absorbed in the mystery of Mr. Visconti. In the process, Laura begins to grasp the importance of friendship and gradually gains enough courage to stand up and show the world who she is --- and who Leon is.

THE VISCONTI HOUSE is a very good debut. The pacing starts off a bit slowly, but the story plays out very clearly and captures your attention right away. Elsbeth Edgar's novel centers on the value of friendship and on true loyalty, communicating many important messages about what it means to be brave and to be unique.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on February 22, 2011

The Visconti House
by Elsbeth Edgar

  • Publication Date: February 22, 2011
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763650196
  • ISBN-13: 9780763650193