This supernatural mystery takes off at a clip, then holds readers' interest right up to the end. With the exception of a few of his widower father's tantalizing stories, about the 10 houses built on "the Square around the Sward" in the late 1800s by patriarch John Matthew Smith and the treasures hidden in three of them, Ellsworth Smith knows almost nothing about his extended family. But on his 13th birthday, Ellsworth receives a letter from his great-aunt, whom he's never met, summoning him to the Smiths' ancestral home to "claim his birthright [and] solve the puzzle of the last treasure"; apparently, only a child can locate the treasure, meant to be used in time of great need. Against his father's wishes, Ellsworth travels to the Square, to which a distant cousin, 13-year-old Jess, has also come. The two engage in a compelling hunt and an equally absorbing exploration of family history. Anderson (Going Through the Gate) builds clues effectively, deftly involving the restless ghost of John Matthew and other highly charged elements, including messages sent in dreams and cats that carry out John Matthew's wishes. Flashbacks chronicle the critical junctures when past generations of Smith children searched for treasure, enriching the story without slackening the pace. A densely woven novel with a thoughtfully delivered message about the riches of family. Ages 10-14. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This emotional book grabs your attention right from the beginning. There are a lot of things happening throughout, but it doesn't seem confusing or crowded. The characters are realistic; they are not perfect and often argue with each other over little things. Anderson strongly conveys the importance of good family relationships. This book is a good mix of mystery and historical fiction and will be enjoyed by most teens. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Dutton, 256p,
Kristen Moreland, Teen Reviewer
This is a lengthy but engrossing novel for middle grade readers, although its 257 pages are broken into forty-two short chapters. Because of estrangement from the family, his father has told Ellsworth Smith, called Zee, little about the Square, an enclave of ten houses that John Matthew Smith built in the mid-nineteenth century in Smith Mills, NY, or about the Smith descendants who still live there. In memory of two older sons who perished in a fire, John Matthew hid three treasures that can be found only by detective work with the help of a keen-eyed child. Flashbacks describing 1910 and 1932 discoveries of the first of the two treasures are printed in a different font to minimize reader confusion. On Zee's 13th birthday, Aunt Elizabeth pleads for him to visit, with the hope that Zee and cousin Jess can help the family regain solvency by solving the third puzzle. In an exciting climax, the last treasure is found and, although Zee and Jess are crucial to locating it, Zee realizes the family is successful in claiming it only because they lay aside grievances, reconcile with each other, and cooperate. More a story about psychological ghosts than a ghost story, the book nevertheless provides a haunting tale of a family reunited after almost two centuries, as its ghostly patriarch wants. 2003, Dutton, Ages 9 to 13.
Gr 5-9-Since his death in 1881, the spirit of John Matthew Smith, once a wealthy patriarch, has been taking an annual walk around the Square of homes he built for his large family. He has whipped up whirlwinds, even downing an oak, in an effort to get his many descendants to patch up quarrels, reunite, and introduce the youngest branches of the family tree to one another. He had hidden three treasures, two of which were found by the family when desperately needed. Now it is time for the youngest relatives to find the third. Sending dreams to two Smith teens who have never met, he ensures their return to Smiths Mills. Facing a counterpane of mystery, mechanically minded Ellsworth and angry Jess must join forces to figure out the family dynamics and the meaning of the treasure clues. Anderson excels in her realization of the detailed setting, which is absolutely necessary for the success of the plot. In Ellsworth, she has created a fully rounded and appealing character who has never been told why his father cut off all ties with his relatives years earlier. With a touch of the family eccentricity of The Monkey Tree (Dutton, 1998) and a bit of the fantasy of Going through the Gate (Puffin, 2000), Anderson has conjured up a fascinating read for puzzle lovers while sandwiching in an important message about intergenerational relationships.-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Anderson offers a beauty--rich, multilayered, full of stories within stories, with the ethereal touch she showed so deftly in Going Through the Gate (1997) and The Monkey Tree (1998). On his 13th birthday, Ellsworth Smith--his father calls him Zee--finds, as usual, a card from his distant cousin Elizabeth. This time, though, she asks him to come to Smiths Mills in upstate New York, to the family’s place, and sends him the money to do so. Zee’s dad, Ben Robert, cannot even talk about his family, so Zee makes the journey alone. It’s a wonderful place, where, in the 19th century, John Matthew Smith built ten houses around the Sward for his children and left treasures for them. As the tale unfolds, Zee, along with his vibrant, jittery girl cousin, Jess, learns in complicated ways how the first two treasures were found in houses now abandoned. Zee learns which cousins no longer speak, which can do nothing but fight, and sees how traits of artistic talent, mechanical puzzles, and love of animals run through the family. The Civil War, Quaker belief, and the joys of cats all play a role here, but none so strong as the fierce bonds between parent and child, brother and cousin, and soon, between Jess and Zee, who look alike enough to be twins. They discover that treasure comes in many forms. (Fiction. 10-14)