Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How It Happened in Peach Hill

Fifteen-year-old Annie is used to living on the run. Her mother, the medium Madame Caterina, communes with the dead, bringing messages across the Great Divide. Or so she says. Not only does Annie know the truth--that her mother is a fraud--but she is forced to assist her mother in that fraud. Between the two of them it's easy to convince the bereaved that their loved ones are communicating important messages. . . and that it is equally important to compensate the medium who helps get those messages across. But from time to time the police take an interest in their work and then it's time to skedaddle. This is the only way of life Annie has ever know, though she yearns for a permanent home.

When Annie and Madame Caterina land in Peach Hill, Annie has to pretend to be an imbecile, complete with drooping eyes and drooling lips. This enables her to collect information on the locals, since no one minds revealing their secrets in front of a person they assume to be an idiot. But soon Annie finds reason to discontinue playing her part, and that reason's name is Sammy Sloane. Annie is weak in the knees for the dark-haired Sammy, but what young man would ever court an idiot? Annie arranges for her mother to heal her"miraculously" but it's not in her mother's plans and her mother is furious with her. And soon Annie's "healing" leads to deeper trouble. Now everyone, including Sammy, believes that Annie can also reach the Other Side. For the first time in her life Annie is making real friends, but she's lying to every one of them. And Madame Caterina has plans to move on again. . .

I enjoyed this. It's set in the 1920s when mediums and spiritual healings were more generally accepted, and quite a few of the characters are seeking dead relatives lost in the Great War. Perhaps due to the time period there isn't much in the way of language, violence, or sex, so readers who like to avoid those things will welcome this book. Annie is a spunky and admirable main character. Some of her quips brought to mind Blossom Culp (of the fabulous Ghosts I Have Been) which makes me wonder if the author was paying small homage to Richard Peck's tale. (Blossom is a bit spunkier plus she really does commune with the dead!) I liked the "supporting cast" in this tale as well, especially the truant officer who isn't quite as taken with Madame Caterina as the rest of the town seems to be.
Now if only this had had a better cover, I'd be completely satisfied. In my next life I swear I am going to get a jobas book cover editor. I would love picking out the perfect covers. (That's not to say I could even begin to design them though.) This cover is okay but it could have been more exciting.

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