This book has been lurking on my bookshelf for a while, waiting for me to be in the right mood for it. A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, aptly subtitled A Melodrama, falls on that fine line between middle-grade reading and young adult literature. I picked it up after a synopsis on Amazon caught my eye.
A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press, 2006
Courtesy of Amazon.com:
From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8–Maud’s life at an orphanage has been one of neglect and poverty. When the Hawthorne sisters appear out of nowhere and adopt the 11-year-old troublemaker, she vows to be obedient. Distracted by unfamiliar pleasures such as new clothes, ice cream, and indoor plumbing, she doesn’t worry too much about the sisters’ insistence that her presence in their home be kept hidden. Well cared for but bored, she finds a way to communicate with Muffet, a deaf serving woman, and the two develop a close relationship. Mysteries abound, and Maud soon discovers the family secret–the Hawthorne sisters make their living by conducting fraudulent séances and they need Maud to play the part of a girl’s ghost to deceive a grieving mother. Wanting to earn her guardians’ affections, Maud is drawn further and further into the scheme despite her growing qualms of conscience. Only after a betrayal and a tragedy does she finally find the loving home for which she longs. Filled with heavy atmosphere and suspense, this story re-creates life in early-20th-century New England and showcases the plight of orphans. Maud is a charismatic, three-dimensional character who is torn between doing the right thing and putting her own needs first. While much of the plot is predictable, particularly the ending, the book will find an audience with fans of gothic tales.–Melissa Moore, Union University Library, Jackson, TN
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Strengths: I really thought this book was charming. It borders on Gothic; I might use it as a springboard to Gothic with the right reader. Maud, the eleven-year-old heroine, is scrappy but compulsively likable, and her spirit is hard to contain. Schlitz deepens Maud’s character with her sensitive portrayal of a child’s yearning for a loving home. Maud is a little like Oliver Twist in that sense, particularly in her misfortune of falling in with a less-than-desirable crowd. But I loved Oliver Twist, so the parallel doesn’t bother me. Maud is a little Oliver, and a little Anne Shirley too; she means well, but is sometimes led astray.
Potential Flaws: If melodrama isn’t your thing, you’ll probably not be too thrilled with this book. It occasionally veers a bit sappy. And the ending is, as School Library Journal says, predictable. But these “flaws” have more to do with personal preference than with stylistic problems or construction issues.
A solid, charming story. Not earth-shattering, emotionally, but a really enjoyable book.