*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Book of Hidden Wonders
Author: Polly Crosby
Publisher: Park Row Books
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Romilly Kemp and her eccentric father have happy but sheltered lives in a ramshackle mansion in the English countryside. To help make ends meet, he creates an illustrated book with Romilly—striking girl with red hair and a mole on her cheek—as the heroine with her cat, Monty. The book becomes an instant success and their estate is overrun with tourists and adventure seekers after rumors spread that hidden within its pages is an elaborate treasure hunt.
As Romilly gets older and her father writes more books, he starts disappearing within himself. She returns to his illustrations, looking for a way to connect with her ailing father, and finds a series of clues he’s left just for her. But this treasure hunt doesn’t lead her to gold or precious stones, but something worth far more—a shocking secret that is crucial to understanding her family.
The Book of Hidden Wonders is an intriguing story, full of dark twists and turns, deep family secrets, and unpredictable characters whose actions often border on the sinister. Romilly Kemp is both the girl–daughter and friend–and the children’s book character, star of her father’s widely-famous stories. The book as a whole has an air of mystery. There is a mysterious treasure hunt buried within the children’s books that draws a strange host of self-seeking hunters from around the world who put the Kemps’ privacy, and often their physical safety, at risk. The only person who Romilly has to turn to is her friend Stacey, whose own history is quite shaded and whose behaviour is questionable at best.
Crosby does an excellent job of layering mystery upon mystery. There is so much to unpack in this book. Each character has their struggles and their skeletons in the closet so it leads us, the readers, to question everything we know and understand as truth. As a child with troubles of her own, Romilly is as unreliable a narrator as one can get. We cannot fully trust her perception and understanding of the world as she is, firstly, a young and imaginative girl who often brings a bit of whimsy into her real life, and secondly, her understanding of her world is incomplete, thus we often learn truths as she discovers them, although she may not always fully understand what it is that she is comprehending. Thus, we must take in everything she says with a grain of salt. Her unreliability adds to the mysterious feel of the book as it often infuses the text with an element of fear of the unknown, and adds a layer of fantastical realism to the story. It almost reads as a fable or fairy tale–cautionary, magical, but rooted in truth.
I really enjoyed this book, especially as I sit here reflecting back on it. I can’t say I’m itching to read it again, but I’d say it’s interesting and certainly worth the read. It was a very unique story of family secrets, deteriorating health, friendship, and loneliness.