The Visconti House
A Novel by Elsbeth Edgar
2009 / 304 Pages
Elsbeth Edgar’s The Visconti House introduces readers to Laura Horton – an eighth grade girl whose family has recently moved into an old, eccentric house in Australia. Laura has always felt different from the other girls at school. Her hair is curly and wild, her skin is not smooth and tan, and her parents don’t have “normal” jobs. And to make matters worse, the kids at school constantly tease Laura for having strange parents and living in a mysterious house that is rumored to be haunted. But Laura loves her life, even if it is different. She just lacks the confidence to say so to her “friends.”
Laura’s extraordinary life takes another unexpected turn when she meets Leon, the new kid in her class. Like Laura, Leon is different, too, and they soon discover a mutual enthusiasm for history and mystery. Curious about the origins of Laura’s house, the two begin a city-wide scavenger hunt for clues about the crumbling mansion and the peculiar man who built it, Mr. Visconti. As they discover more and more evidence about Mr. Visconti, they also discover the importance of friendship in a world where being different often means being lonely.
Any young reader who has ever felt like an outsider will surely find comfort in Laura and Leon’s story. It’s easy to forget how cruel kids can be, especially if you stand out from the rest of the crowd. And while Laura struggles to find her place amongst her peers, she has a tremendous amount of support from many people in her life, including her parents, Leon, and his family.
Even though the “mystery” that Laura and Leon uncover isn’t the most compelling aspect of the plot-line, the real story is in their journey of friendship and self-discovery. The young sleuths must gather evidence through old documents, letters, archives, and interviews to find out why Mr. Visconti built such a grand and unusual mansion, and along they way, they subtly remind readers of the importance of libraries and archives, as well as the importance of preserving history.
When we are first introduced to Laura, she is lonely, uncomfortable, and self-conscious, but her adventure with Leon will also serve to reinforce the beauty of being extraordinary in an ordinary world. As Leon says, “All interesting people are different…It’s one of the things that make them interesting.” It seems like an obvious statement, but for an eighth grade girl, embracing your differences is incredibly courageous, and will likely inspire readers to recognize that being different is a gift, not a curse.