Do you have a favorite childhood book that no one seems to remember? Something you read over and over again, but that no one else has ever heard of? For me, that book is Unclaimed Treasures by Patricia MacLachlan. Most people know Patricia MacLachlan from her classic Sarah, Plain and Tall, which my class read in school and then followed with the film version starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken (it should be noted that this caused me to develop an inappropriate fifth grade crush on Christopher Walken. He was so rugged and stoic! Don’t judge me!). For some reason, though, I’ve never met anyone else who’s read Unclaimed Treasures. I hope there’s actually a secret society of Unclaimed Treasures fans out there, because otherwise we have a huge tragedy on our hands.
12-year-old Willa and her twin brother Nicholas live with their English professor father and their very pregnant mother. The twins both talk like adults (kind of like the high schoolers on Dawson’s Creek), but this is far from a complaint. I know that I usually praise books that have an authentic young adult voice, but as a kid, I happened to love it when the characters in books talked like grown ups. I, too, wanted to be worldly and well-spoken, someone who could dispense advice and ponder life’s mysteries (instead of just wondering what was for dinner, which was much more my style).
Speaking of being adult, when Willa and Nicholas wander into the funeral of someone they don’t know, they end up drinking wine. When they come back home giggling and tipsy and Willa is still holding a wineglass, their parents just smile knowingly. The 1980s must’ve been a far different time when it came to alcohol attitudes. That was the kind of adultness I aspired to at 12: wandering into random funerals, enjoying a nice glass of wine and not getting punished for it. Was that so much to ask?
However, funeral drinking isn’t the only adult thing on Willa’s mind. She’s very fixated on finding her true love. She’s also obsessed with things that are extraordinary. Extraordinary, she decides, is leaving your family to seek your fortune, like her neighbor Horace’s mother did. Ordinary is having a baby, like her own mother. “You just popped babies out and had them on your hands for years,” Willa thinks.
When Willa meets Horace’s father, a painter, she’s convinced she’s finally found her true love. Never mind that she’s 12 and he’s pining over his wandering wife; what are a few technicalities in the face of the extraordinary? When he asks her to sit for a painting he’s working on, Willa finds herself in the romantic, exciting adult world she’s always longed for. Girl meets boy, boy is actually a middle-aged man with an absent wife, boy paints girl and falls in love…you know, that old story.
But this is a heartwarming book and not a creepy book, so Willa does not end up seducing Horace’s father. Instead, she learns a lot over the course of the summer…like that love is complicated and unexpected, that maybe your chubby neighbor can actually be your true love, and that having a baby really is pretty extraordinary.
-Horace’s full name is Horace Morris. Horace Morris! I can’t stop saying it. Horace Morris.
-As we’ve all learned, YA heroines love lists, and Willa is no exception. She makes a list of things that are extraordinary and ordinary. Extraordinary includes finding your true love. Ordinary includes sleeping, eating, and going to the bathroom.
-Willa and Nicholas refer to the birds and the bees chat their parents gave them as the “LST,” or Little Sex Talk, which is so adorable that I almost can’t handle it.
-When Willa is the quest to find her true love, she reads in a book that her true love might actually be her father. Determined to leave no stone unturned, she “threw herself into his arms once, pressing up close against him, whispering in his ear the way it was done in the movies. He had looked at her strangely, smiling, as if he had read the same book or seen the same movies.”
What about you…have you ever read Unclaimed Treasures? Do you have a favorite childhood book that everyone else seems to have forgotten? And did you ever have a strange but brief crush on Christopher Walken? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear what books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education! Leave me a comment, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.