on 5 December 2008
This is one of the better American young adult novels of recent years. In some ways, it reminded me of Joan Aiken's works, centring as it does around a feisty yet vulnerable young girl who is caught up with unscrupulous adults.
Maud Flynn is an orphan, who thinks her dreams have come true on the day she is adopted by the Hawthorne sisters. Spoilt by newfound luxuries, she is initially unconcerned by the decree that she keep quiet at all times and let no-one know of her existence. However, she gradually becomes aware that there is a darker side to her new life; the sisters are using spiritualism to prey upon vulnerable wealthy people and wish Maud to help them in their deception. What follows is a dramatic, moving tale as Maud must decide where her loyalties lie. Her friendship with Muffet, the deaf housekeeper, shows her starting to break out of her self-absorption and learning to look beneath the surface. (The portrayal of the deaf and their treatment by early c20th society is one of the many fine strands in this novel.)
All the characters are vivid and memorable, and the evocation of life in a small American coastal town at the start of last century is convincing. There is plenty of action, but many deeper issues to think over once the story is ended. Books about orphans have long been popular in North American children's literature, but this is no Anne of Green Gables idyll. Maud ends up with a happy ending after all; but she must go through emotional and physical danger to reach it, and learn some painful lessons about trust, truth and loyalty along the way. Adults as well as children will find much to learn and appreciate about this novel; I recommend it to all.