"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama


Title: A Drowned Maidens Hair : A Melodrama
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 0763629308

"On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing, The Battle Hymn of the Republic." What a great way to begin a story! I was hooked from that first sentence.

Maud Flynn is a difficult girl. She excels at getting into trouble at the orphanage and is considered plain. She doesn’t have the curly blond ringlets or an agreeable nature, so she is overwhelmed to learn she has been adopted by the mysterious Hawthorne sisters. She is swept away by the mercurial Hyacinth Hawthorne and her sister Judith to their house far away. She is bought new clothes, given treats and books all before she gets to her destination.

What follows is an enormously entertaining and unusual tale. Maud is drawn into the “family business”. The Hawthorne sisters are spiritualists, mediums that make their money by holding fraudulent séances. There is a rich and grieving mother who is willing to give the first medium who can produce the ghost of her lost child a great deal of money and the sisters need Maud to play the dead child. Since no one can know that she exists, she becomes a “secret child”, not allowed to go out or make noise, or even to be in the populated parts of the house. She is lonely, love-starved and bored in this new and mysterious life. Maud makes friends with Muffet, the deaf housekeeper and they grow close. The mysteries grow as does Maud’s conscience though she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the scheme.

I loved this book and was completely caught up in the tale. It brings to life the time period as well as the fascination of the time with the spiritualists and mediums. It got me thinking about Harry Houdini, snake oil salesmen and the like.

Maud Flynn is a great character who just exudes life and almost leaps off the pages and into your home. She’s complex and multi-layered as are all the characters in the book. There is so much going on that you can hardly wait to turn the page. Highly recommended!

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