By Tracy Rees
Simon and Schuster, June 2016
About the Book
Winner of the UK’s Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition, this page-turning debut novel follows an orphan whose late, beloved best friend bequeaths her a treasure hunt that leads her all over Victorian England and finally to the one secret her friend never shared.
It is 1831 when eight-year-old Aurelia Vennaway finds a naked baby girl abandoned in the snow on the grounds of her aristocratic family’s magnificent mansion. Her parents are horrified that she has brought a bastard foundling into the house, but Aurelia convinces them to keep the baby, whom she names Amy Snow. Amy is brought up as a second-class citizen, despised by Vennaways, but she and Aurelia are as close as sisters. When Aurelia dies at the age of twenty-three, she leaves Amy ten pounds, and the Vennaways immediately banish Amy from their home.
But Aurelia left her much more. Amy soon receives a packet that contains a rich inheritance and a letter from Aurelia revealing she had kept secrets from Amy, secrets that she wants Amy to know. From the grave she sends Amy on a treasure hunt from one end of England to the other: a treasure hunt that only Amy can follow. Ultimately, a life-changing discovery awaits . . . if only Amy can unlock the secret. In the end, Amy escapes the Vennaways, finds true love, and learns her dearest friend’s secret, a secret that she will protect for the rest of her life.
An abandoned baby, a treasure hunt, a secret. As Amy sets forth on her quest, readers will be swept away by this engrossing gem of a novel—the wonderful debut by newcomer Tracy Rees.
Aurelia, a rebellious young heiress in Victorian Surrey, discovers an abandoned infant in the snowy fields outside her family’s manor. She christens her “Amy Snow” and raises her as her companion and closest friend, much to the consternation of her parents. Amy grows up, sleeping in a potato bucket in the kitchen and being treated like a servant, but she is also educated in Aurelia’s shadow until Aurelia nears marriageable age.
When a life-threatening heart defect derails all plans of marrying Aurelia off to a wealthy suitor, Amy knows her time with her closest friend and only advocate is waning. When Aurelia dies, Amy is thrown out of the house, as expected, and yet her life changes when a mysterious letter arrives from Aurelia weeks after her death. Aurelia knew for several months that she would not live long enough to ensure Amy a happy, independent life, and so she has set in motion a curious treasure hunt across the country, providing Amy a chance at happiness, with new experiences and the possibility of love and friends she’d never imagined. All the while, Amy learns that her dearest friend was not everything Amy thought her to be and nor is Amy all she assumed she was. As Amy grows closer to the great secret at the end of the trail, Amy is transformed, becoming the independent woman her best friend always wanted her to be.
Although rather predictable in places (the reader will certainly guess Aurelia’s “secret” long before Amy does), each stop along the route is alternately joyous, difficult, and challenging, and yet every situation was carefully chosen to gradually reveal Aurelia’s secret and to teach Amy about the wider world she has so far been sheltered from. Amy undergoes a condensed growing up period amongst strangers, some who love her, some who provoke her, and some who teach her how to live the life she deserves.
Even though the mystery is not a big leap, it’s the journey that matters here, a journey that reveals as much about Amy as it does Aurelia. It uncovers what she’s capable of despite her limitations of obscurity and poverty and highlights the life Aurelia wanted for her. Observing Amy’s blossoming—sad, moving, joyous, frightening, and frustrating in turns—is like unwrapping a gift. You’ll enjoy every moment.
Rebecca Henderson Palmer