Images © Elizabeth Enright Gillham.
The fourth and final Melendy Family book is probably my favorite, though to get the most out of it, you need to have read the others first, as it winds its way through a maze of places and characters from the previous books that will mean a lot more if you already know them. The two oldest Melendy children, Mona and Rush, plus their adopted brother Mark, have all gone away to school, leaving the youngest two, Miranda and Oliver, to rattle around their large house with only their housekeeper Cuffy and groundskeeper Willy for company. Their father is also away most of the time on business, and the cheerful crowd of Melendys has left behind only sad echoes, and the looming length of an entire school year ahead. All that changes when a mysterious letter arrives for Randy and Oliver. It contains a rhymed clue, the beginning of the game known as a paper chase, where one written clue leads to another and another until the final goal is reached. These are hard clues, though, meant to keep the kids searching, wondering, and guessing until the following summer!
Randy and Oliver don’t know who created this game for them, though it seems obvious that their siblings are involved based on the knowledge the clues draw on. The game does what it was intended for, though, keeping them busy, and driving their friends and family crazy as they work their way through it. It’s a great idea for a book, allowing the reader to play along with the guessing game. Sometimes the clues seem blindingly obvious to the reader, but not to the kids, and vice versa. Along the way all kinds of adventures and misadventures ensue.
I had never heard of the paper chase game before reading this book in grade school, but I liked it so much I started writing and hiding them for my brothers, and sometimes also my cousins. Later I did them for their children a few times, too. Mine were all meant to be solved in one go, though, so weren’t as hard as the ones in the book.
The “spiderweb” in the book’s title is, perhaps, the only thing I don’t really like about it, but that’s a minor point. This is a great read, and a fitting finale to the Melendy story. At the end of it is a surprising yet appropriate reward. And we leave the family in a happy glow, with adulthood for some of them looming, but not yet in sight. Everything is possible for them, and for us, the book seems to say. All the Melendy books are highly recommended, though older editions with the author’s wonderful illustrations will probably be the most satisfying.