Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz

I have started to worry that I gush too much about books I enjoy. I worry that it's the sort of thing that puts people off, if I absolutely love everything. Or I worry that if I am too glowing in my reviews, people's expectations will be too high -- and following their disappointed reading, they will start to view my enthusiasm with a jaded eye. (To be fair, this might not be a bad idea.)

But. People, I can't help myself. I have another one I really, really liked. I have so much admiration for this book that I want to tell everyone who might be vaguely interested in it that they should absolutely look it up. I have already done this to several people I know. It is probably best in the older JFIC section; my 11-year-old Anne of Green Gables fan cousin will be an ideal audience, but Schlitz's writing style is simple and elegant and appeals very much to me as an adult (uh, such as I am) too.

I knew the major thrust of the plot but I didn't know how that plot would unfold, and Schlitz leads us through it slowly and carefully, revealing things in a natural and very satisfying way. This is the true joy of the story. It wasn't always predictable, and when it was predictable it wasn't boring or irritating. It was more in a "I knew it!" kind of way. There is a sense of oppression, of unease, that starts early in the book, but not too early, and it builds so masterfully that it's hard to tear one's eyes away. It's a great, absolutely great, October read. In fact, keep it in mind for next year: it would probably be an excellent read for anyone doing the RIP challenge. This is a melodrama, with definite nods to the gothic: a grand but fading house, dark and foreboding weather, a lonely orphan heroine caught up in a dangerous plot, and hints of the supernatural as it gallops towards its conclusion.

Now, no major spoilers follow, because this is all on the book jacket (although the summary is in my own words). However, if you're the sort of person who doesn't read book jackets because you don't want to know anything about the story, stop here because this book jacket is just barely this side of the line of spoilery.

The book begins:

On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

A Drowned Maiden's Hair
is the story of Maud, an 11-year-old orphan. It is the best day of her life because Maud is about to be adopted by Hyacinth Hawthorne, one of the three Hawthorne sisters (the other two are Judith and Victoria). She is about to be taken out of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans to a beautiful old house in Hawthorne Grove, where she believes she is to become the pampered daughter of the generous, if somewhat eccentric, sisters. And for a while it seems she is right; but all is not as it seems. The sisters are not what they appear to be on the surface, and Maud's role in their life is not as daughter, but assistant and apprentice.

Maud's voice is very powerful throughout the book. She's a brilliant character, so real to me that I cared very much for her and empathized with her entirely. And she is a character who will stay with me strongly, too. She is a brave, intelligent, and very spunky little girl, and the reader can't help but cheer for her throughout the story even if she is a little brat sometimes (and when she is, we probably cheer that too). The other characters are well-written as well, but it's hard to write too much about them without giving a lot away.

A sense of Maud's character:

Maud was also silent -- not because she had nothing to say, but because she had resumed being perfectly good. In fact, she was showing off. Judith had told her that children should not speak at the table unless a grown-up spoke to them. Maud felt that this was as unjust as it was idiotic, but for one night only she was willing to obey.

Highly recommended! I am told that this book hasn't sold well despite critical acclaim, and that makes me sad. It deserves better. Laura Amy Schlitz has written other books, including one involving the Brothers Grimm (yessss!) called The Bearskinner and I intend to pick that one up next.

So much gratitude to Mandy for providing me both with a recommendation to read this book, and a copy of my own! She has just retro reviewed it herself over at edge of seventeen.


Vasilly said...

This has been on my TBR list for months now! I'm going to see if my library has it and check it out. It sounds like a great read.

Unknown said...

Vasilly - It really is! And not a long one, either. It's a substantial book, but reads very smoothly. I'm excited to see what you think!

Mandy said...

Awesome, I'm so glad you liked it! I really get the whole trying not to be too enthused because I might come off as insincere thing. But if you love a book it's so exciting to talk about it! Plus it will generate more interest in this particular title and it deserves it.

I didn't actually know about her Grimm book. I will HAVE to look into it. Her new Fairy book is shirt and I think it's for an even younger reader, but I'm not sure. I'll pass it along when I'm done with it.

So cool that you like dthis one and a great review to boot!

Unknown said...

Mandy - I am excited to read that Fairy one. I think she could write advertising copy and I'd be entranced.

taraSG - Thank you very much! That's very kind.

Jill said...

I loved this one, too. And thanks to your suggestion, it is on our official list of RIP books to read together for next year. :-)

Unknown said...

Darla - Excellent! I'm always glad to "help" with people's TBR lists. ;)