Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We Hear the Dead

An excellent historical novel set in pre-Civil War America. This is when spiritualism was born, the time when seances and communication with the dead became a national mania. Who first started "spirit rapping?" None other than our narrator, the teenaged Maggie Fox and her younger sister, Kate.

It begins as a harmless prank: Maggie and Kate dislike the cousin who has come to live with them and are simply seeking a way to chase her off. The "otherwordly" noises they say are ghosts are really nothing more than a hoax of the Fox sisters, but before they know it, the entire community is swamping their house, eager to commune with the dearly departed spirits of their loved ones. Once it starts, Maggie and Kate can't stop it. Their fame grows, especially after their eldest sister, the shrewd Leah, arrives to push the girls' celebrity. Soon the Fox sisters are sharing parlor seances with the high-class and the famous. The money comes rolling in, but the sisters teeter on the edge of being unmasked, and the older Maggie grows, the more she questions whether her deceptions truly give comfort to the bereaved or cruelly deceive the innocent at their most vulnerable. Maggie knows the spirit rapping is a farce, but Kate begins to believe she truly has the gift of second sight. When Maggie meets a man and falls in love, her chosen profession becomes a bitter obstacle. Maggie's "celebrity" is good parts notoriety, and may well cost her the person she loves most.

So well-written! This novel really feels like it's come from the time period it represents. The narrator's style of speaking is so smooth and dead on (no pun intended) that the book feels deliciously authentic (aside from a few misuses of "lay" where the word "lie" should have gone--this grammatical error is a product of our current generation, not the pre-Civil war generation.) I loved reading this, and the ups and downs of the Fox sisters kept me turning the pages. What an impressive debut for a YA writer. I look forward to more of Diane K. Salerni's work.

If you enjoy this period of history like I do, I can suggest a few other titles about spiritism. Give The Spiritualist by Megan Chance a read, and enjoy the pure brilliance of Sarah Waters's Affinity. Note: These two titles were published for adults rather than teens.

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