Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review - The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs

Short review: Mrs. Zimmerman and Rose Rita deal with a farm and magic ring that Mrs. Zimmerman inherited and run into a magical mystery. Rose Rita also has to deal with adolescence.

Inherited farm
Plus a mysterious ring
A girl growing up

Full review: The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring is listed as being part of the Lewis Barnaveldt series, but Lewis plays an extremely minor part in the book, and doesn't affect the plot except that his absence drives the his best friend (and heroine of the story) Rose Rita to travel with the elderly Mrs. Zimmerman to her late cousin's farm.

The plot of the book is kicked off by a letter Mrs. Zimmerman receives from her late cousin bequeathing her his farm in upstate Michigan. The letter also mentions a magic ring that her cousin says he found on the property. Thirteen year old Rose Rita, feeling abandoned as her best friend Lewis Barnaveldt has decided to go to scout camp for the summer, decides to accompany Mrs. Zimmerman to settle the affairs related to the farm.

One of the elements of Bellairs' stories that seem to date them is the easy acceptance of these sorts of friendships between older adults and children. The friendship between Johnny Dixon and Professor Childermass in the Johnny Dixon novels and the close friendship between Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman in the Barnaveldt novels are associations I doubt parents would condone in more recent years. In Mrs. Zimmerman's case, it appears Rose Rita's parents don't even like her (unlike Johnny Dixon's grandparents, who are friends with Professor Childermass), but they let her spend the night at Mrs. Zimmerman's house and go away with her on long trips. Nowadays, such a close relationship between an older woman and an unrelated teenage girl would raise more than a few eyebrows, and probably be prohibited by the child's parents. I'm not sure all of Mrs. Zimmerman's influence on Rose Rita is good, but she means well, and if it were prohibited, Rose Rita would clearly suffer, so maybe we have become too sensitive about this sort of thing.

Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman travel to northern Michigan, find an old nemesis of Mrs. Zimmerman's, find the farm in disarray, and the allegedly magical ring missing. The two then spend a couple weeks in the area, surrounded by odd events and getting themselves into troubles of various sorts, until Mrs. Zimmerman vanishes one night.On her own now, Rose Rita springs into action, jumps to a couple conclusions, makes a new friend, stretches the truth a bit, and nearly gets herself killed trying to locate and rescue Mrs. Zimmerman. In the end, the villain does herself in, and all turns out well.

In some ways, the mystery, while fun, is merely a backdrop for the story of tomboyish Rose Rita coming to grips with becoming a teenage girl. She is conflicted, not wanting to give up the things she enjoys (and that make her a tomboy), but she also has started to think about what it would be like to be more "girlish" and whether she wants to do that.In the end, an enjoyable gothic mystery story, combined with engaging and well-written characters made this an enjoyable read, and a book I would certainly recommend to any young reader.

Previous book in the series: The Figure in the Shadows
Subsequent book in the series: The Ghost in the Mirror

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