Until earlier this year, I hadn’t realized that John Bellairs had written three series of books for kids. I’ve known about the Lewis Barnavelt and Johnjy Dixon books since I was their target demographic age but Anthony Monday was new to me.
Funny enough, I had actually heard of the first book, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, back in those days. But I hadn’t realized it was by Bellairs or that it was the start of a series. (I also hadn’t read it)
Unlike Bellairs’ other series, the Anthony Monday books don’t start out as gothic horror (although apparently they switch over to fantasy and gothic horror by the second book) Instead, Treasure is a straight up mystery, with the characters on a hunt for the eponymous treasure.
Brad Strickland, who has been empowered by either Bellairs’ estate or publisher to continue his work, has said that publishers don’t like Anthony Monday and aren’t interested in having him continue the series. So I went into Treasure with an eye for figuring out why that was the case.
Unlike either Johnny or Lewis, Anthony actually has living parents, plus a brother. Which just reminds me that, in fiction, orphans have more freedom to do whatever they want, the Batman factor.
And Anthony’s relationship with his family is a big part of the book, particularly his relationship with his mother. Who is emotionally damaged and is emotionally abusive, although there is no doubt she loves all her family. Still, it’s understandable that Anthony’s elderly mentor, Miss Eells, openly serves as a surrogate mother figure for him.
The strong focus on Anthony’s emotional life makes him more nuanced and more layered than either Lewis or Johnny. It also makes him more flawed and more immature than either of them. This just helps the reader appreciate his growth and struggles.
Likewise, the villain in Treasure, as opposed to an evil ghost (You know, a _lot_ of evil ghosts show up in Bellairs’ books) Instead, he’s a nasty narcissist whose perfectly willing to hurt Anthony and his family for the treasure. I found him more emotionally striking than the evil ghosts.
I did find the actual mystery plot to be thin. The actual location of the treasure was so glaringly obvious that the protagonists should have checked it out early in the book, just on general principle. But the weight of the book was on Anthony growing so it doesn’t ruin the book.
So, why do publishers shy away from Anthony Monday? Is it because at least the first book is more emotionally challenging and less escapism? Were the mysteries just that meh?
I do want to at least read the second book to see if Gothic Horror changes Anthony’s characterization.