As Polly Crosby's enchanting debut, The Book of Hidden Wonders, opens, eight-year-old Romilly and her father arrive at an ancient Suffolk farmhouse surrounded by a slimy moat, far from Romilly's memories of their life in London. Why are they now isolated here? Where is Mum? How will they live? As she narrates the next nine years, Romilly's coming-of-age at Braër is magical, terrifying and mysterious.
Dad immerses himself in painting, and soon publishes a book illustrated with detailed pictures of Romilly and her cat, roaming in the lush countryside. Wildly successful, the book generates a legend: that clues to a buried treasure are hidden in its pages. Strangers encroach, and Romilly seeks refuge from "the double edge" of fame. Dad's sequels, imaginative stories and illustrations of a Romilly who never ages, add to the rumors of riches, as reality grows more sinister. Romilly is haunted by a mysterious child's voice, wonders at a ghostly woman in the books and fears a prowling panther she senses nearby. Her only friend is a girl who demands loyalty but drops in and out inexplicably. As the plot grows increasingly supernatural, mysteries resolve: the story of Romilly's Mum, the reason for Dad's eccentricities.
Tension mounts as the "treasure" is revealed: Dad created the "clues" to explain the family's secrets to his daughter. With Dad "a watercolor echo of his former self," the young adult Romilly struggles to sort myth from reality and build a life, leading to a climax that, while still mystical, offers hope. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.