The Last Treasure is written by Janet S. Anderson. It was published in 2003 by Dutton. Anderson’s website can be found here.
“Thirteen-year-old Ellsworth Smith belongs to a family of two—it’s just he and his dad, always on the move. This is okay with Ellsworth until the dreams come, the dreams of houses surrounding a beautiful green square. Then a letter arrives, inviting Ellsworth to a home he doesn’t remember: the Square in Smiths Mills, New York. He is needed there because hidden within the old houses is a treasure that only a child can uncover—the last treasure of John Matthew Smith, the family’s eccentric patriarch. But there are other things hidden in the square, too, old secrets and sorrows. Ellsworth’s return stirs up these “ghosts,” and finding the treasure may be the only way to give them rest.”
What I Liked:
There’s a wonderful back-story/family tree built into this novel that gives a very historical feel to it. It’s interesting to read about the Smith family and the Square and the three treasure houses. There’s a lot of dynamics and things going on in the novel that make it pretty fast-paced all throughout.
This book really emphasizes the importance of family, and also does a good job of showing all the many family dynamics and troubles that there could possibly be in a large family such as this one. The plot had potential and even though it didn’t reach that full potentiality, it was still pretty decent.
What I Didn’t Like:
Like I said, the plot had potential, but the delivery was mediocre. Ellsworth annoyed me several times over, the writing was weird in its style, and I kept getting distracted by thinking about how much better the book could have been if it had been done a different way. This could have been a fantastic house treasure hunt/mystery, but the family plot kept overshadowing it. The treasure hunt was mainly there as a plot device to get the family back together again, and although that is not a bad plot device by any means, I think the book would have ultimately been better with the treasure hunt as the main storyline. But then again, what do I know? I just know that I would have enjoyed a treasure hunt main plot way better than the weird supernatural-but-not-really feel of the family history.
Also, every family member is crazy. Really, they’re all weird. I think Anderson was going for a “foible” type of thing, but it just made it all seem unrealistic. Also, Jess’s phobia of fires is not dealt with at all well; it’s sort of passed over and made out to be more of a weird quirk than an actual fear.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Mystery, Middle Grade, Realistic
Ellsworth shook his head and took a couple of steps so that he could see it more clearly. Only a couple of steps, though, because too close and he had the funny feeling it might suck him in. He’d get wet, too, because the whole middle part of the picture was a pond. It was a very flat and blue pond. Ducks floated on its surface and frogs sitting on lily pads stared out in a flat froggy way. Around it stood ten houses, and in front of the houses…
Ellsworth blinked. In front of the northmost house stood an old couple. A child stood between them, holding their hands. Their other hands reached out to two more children, who reached out to others, forming a circle, a whole linked dancing circle around the pond. Ellsworth took another step and peered more closely. How many of them were there, anyway? He worked his way around, counting. There were thirteen, thirteen kids and two adults, and it finally came to him who they were.
A lot of the names were only vaguely familiar, wives and husbands and children of Smiths, small print on Ben Robert’s family tree. What he wanted were the big-print names, and one by one he found them: Robert, Alice, and Sarah: Matthew and Samuel; Ulysses and Emily. Just in front of the trees, he hit the jackpot. Richard lay between Ellsworth and Thomas, and above them, flanked by the urns, were the most familiar names of all. John Matthew Smith: 1820-1881. Elizabeth Sullivan Smith: 1825-1902. As Ellsworth crouched there looking at them, an ant started its way down the long curved valley of the J. Ellsworth flicked it away and put his hand down on the stone. It was warm.
The Last Treasure has potential. It has great potential. But the delivery ruins it. The treasure hunt plot, which would have been great if there had been more focus on it, is bogged down by an interesting, but just plain weird family dynamic that just left me scratching my head. The book also seems to want to head into supernatural territory, but never does. Thumbs up for family, but really…this book could have been better.
You can buy this here: The Last Treasure
Coming Up Next: Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde