Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Review of 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair' by Laura Amy Schlitz

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

That is the day that Maud-- 'plain, clever, and bad' girl of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans-- is adopted into a real family, surprising even Maud herself.  The elderly Hawthorne sisters, led by the charismatic Hyacinth, think that Maud Flynn is absolutely perfect, and Maud follows them eagerly into a brand-new life, expecting to be pampered and cherished beyond her wildest dreams.

Once she settles in with Hyacinth, Judith, and Victoria to live out an orphan's fantasy, however, Maud learns that 'perfection' has more to do with the secret role she can play in the high-stakes and eerie 'family business' than with her potential as a beloved family member.  Not one to give up easily, Maud persists in playing her role in the hopes of someday being rewarded with genuine affection.  But the burden of keeping secrets and perpetuating lies grows heavy even for Maud, and she must ultimately decide just how much she is willing to endure for the sake of being loved."

I haven't read middle grade books in such a long time, but it's time to switch gears for a little bit.  I first read this years ago, but I remembered liking it, so I decided to read it again-- this time, for review purposes!

In general, the story is pretty intriguing.  I love the fact that seances are included in this story.  I've never attended one, so it's interesting to toy with the thought of what one would be like.  The stakes are set even higher because of Maud's role in this story.  She manipulates the spiritual and assists the Hawthorne sisters in the deception of their customers.

There's a moral dilemma that I keep thinking about because of this book.  Is it better for someone to have closure or to receive the truth?  The answer is probably the very reason why people go to see psychics or have seances.  I would love to know your thoughts.

Maud was a great character.  The connections she made with other people, even someone who was harder to communicate with like Muffet (Anna).  I thought it was really awesome how maternal Muffet was for Maud, especially since the Hawthorne sisters weren't as interested in being Guardians as they were in paying off their various debts and being spiritualists.  That was very sad to know that they adopted for selfish reasons.  Just as a child should never be born into this world with a task (for example, curing unhappiness in depressed mothers), an adopted child should never have to be brought into a family that expect so much from her and are willing to give very little in return.

What I really like about this book is that even though the situation is a bit foreign to the modern reader, it is still very much read-able.  The story takes place in the Victorian era (I'm pretty sure), but Maud is such a good narrator, that everything seems so strange, yet so familiar.  When the Hawthorne's and Maud are in Cape Calypso, Maud goes to the boardwalk at night where there is a small amusement park.  Her descriptions appeal to all of the senses making you feel like you're actually there.

One thing that I really didn't like was Hyacinth.  She was for sure a two-faced character, there's no denying that, but the thing that bothers me (aside from her infuriating responses and utterly selfish character) is that there really didn't seem to be a transition between sweet old woman and psycho-spiritualist-lady.  Even reading this a second time, I was left rather confused when she suddenly turns on Maud, essentially for being affectionate.  I guess I would prefer more of an obvious transition.

Another thing that I didn't like was how uninvolved Judith and Victoria were despite knowing perfectly well what they were doing with the seances and how prepared they were to take care of Maud.  Why didn't they do anything?  They were horrible advocates for Maud.  Even if they believed that they couldn't take care of Maud, they should have rallied for better care or they should have at least stood up for Maud more often.

One last thing that I didn't care for was the ending.  Judith and Victoria did pretty much the only decent thing for Maud and return her to the orphanage, admitting that they failed her and not the other way around.  I appreciate this kind of dip in the plot.  Everything is supposed to be getting better at this point, but it doesn't until the very end.  When Mrs. Lambert turns up saying that she wants to adopt Maud, everything begins to feel very forced.  Ultimately, there is closure to Maud's story, but it just seems like a very anti-climactic ending.  It just seems so logical and yet outlandish.  Logical in the sense that Mrs. Lambert has been following Maud around Cape Calypso and she's really the only remaining character we've been introduced to.  It's outlandish in the sense that Maud has hurt Mrs. Lambert very deeply.  Why on earth would Mrs. Lambert ever feel like adopting Maud was the solution?  There was closure to the ending, but it really feels like the book should have ended in a better way.  It was just a little bit too cheesy for me.

Overall, 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair' is a fairly well-written book for younger readers, but there are a handful of drawbacks when reading this book.

I give 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair':
Thanks for Reading!


P.S. I'm working on writing more reviews, even if they're for movies, and I'm also working on writing up my college adventures, so at least you'll see some kind of content from me each week.  Have a lovely first week of October!

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