Goodreads: The Last Treasure
Thirteen-year-old Ellsworth Smith has always lived alone with his dad, until the day a letter arrives saying that his family needs him and reminding him of the old stories. Back in the day, Smith patriarch John Matthew had built a series of houses on his Square, reserving one for each of his thirteen children. Three remained empty, however, and in those John Matthew hid a treasure, only to be found in great need by a child. Only the last treasure remains and the Smiths want it found before they all plunge into financial ruin. When Ellsworth visits the Square for the first time, however, he finds himself embroiled in a lot of family drama–the kind that might keep him from ever looking for treasure.
The Last Treasure possesses an intriguing premise, and just the kind that would have pulled me in as a child. After all, what child doesn’t want to read about finding lost treasure–the kind that adults are too stupid and silly to find? Add in the bits about mysterious dreams, a restless and ghostly patriarch, and some mysterious family history and you seem guaranteed a fun read. Unfortunately, I found myself so bored that I ended up skimming the last quarter of the book.
The Last Treasure begins promisingly with the introduction of deceased John Matthew still looking after his family and sending two Smith children dreams to entice them back to the Square, where most of the Smiths still live. The scene has a pleasant eeriness to it, suggesting mystery and danger to come. Actually, despite all the dire warnings given throughout the book and some of the cryptic advice, no real danger exists (John Matthew built this puzzle for his family to help them, after all–it’s not like he laid a curse on the place so no one would enter). Furthermore, after the introduction, John Matthew and the dreams become practically irrelevant. John Matthew never returns to the story (in ghostly form) and the dream lingers on as some weird obsession of one of the children, who seems convinced it means she’s going to burn to death if she enters the treasure house. I guess it wasn’t a great way to convince her to visit the Square, after all. In fact, it just makes the girl who keeps referring to it annoying.
At least her annoying habits give the girl protagonist a bit of a personality. The other members of the family are known mostly through one or two distinguishing traits–one cooks, one is a teacher, two have dogs. They never come to life on the page and Ellsworth, the protagonist, seems as little inclined to get to know them as I was. And no wonder. The majority of them are mad at each other for undisclosed reasons and very quickly the search for a treasure becomes lost in the maze of petty family drama, most of which remains unexplained to the end–not that anyone is likely to care about it, anyway.
Uninterested in the characters and their ridiculous biases from decades earlier, I found myself disengaged by the plot soon after Ellsworth arrived in the Square. I forced myself through hundreds of pages in the hopes that John Matthew at least has a clever idea for the last treasure house and that it would be worth seeing (the first two treasures were pretty easy to find–but then, he did want them found). The reveal was not so spectacular, however and, in the end, I regretted spending time reading this book when I could have read something better.