By: Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Historical Fiction
Maud Flynn never thought she would have a family of her own. A resident of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans, she was told that she was “plain, clever, and bad,” a combination that often didn’t warrant for adoption. Then, something happens that even surprises Maud. She is adopted by the wealthy, eccentric Hawthorne sisters, and she thinks that she has finally found a home. However, life with the Hawthornes isn’t all that Maud had hoped it would be, and she learns that the women didn’t want her as a daughter, but as someone to help them out in their secret “family business.” The story follows Maud’s experiences with the sisters Hawthorne and the strange world they inhabit.
This was an enjoyable read. Maud is an eleven-year-old with a lot of pent-up anger. She’s troublesome and never expects to be adopted, but once she is, she resolves to be whatever these women want her to be in order to earn their love. Her story has a tragic feel to it. It feels like nothing has ever gone right for this girl, she has never really experienced happiness, and the reader wants her to find the love and acceptance that she so desperately craves. She is truly a sympathetic character. The Hawthorne sisters show more of their true colors as the story progresses. Judith is the strict, responsible one, Hyacinth is the one who wastes money frivolously and has a flair for the dramatic, and Victoria is the most reserved, and probably the most like Maud, emotionally. Muffet, the servant woman, is wonderfully crafted, considering she is both mute and deaf. Her love for Maud and her bold personality make her stand out as one of the most memorable characters of the novel.
This story is an emotional journey for the young heroine. The reader learns the secrets of the family business only as Maud does, and despite its ugly dealings, it is easy to understand why young Maud would go along with it. The mystery of the business is revealed fairly early on. The true story lies with Maud’s relationships with Muffet and the sisters Hawthorne and how long she is willing to work with them before it becomes too much.
The writing is well-done, luring the reader from chapter to chapter with ease. I often found it hard to pull myself away from the story because I wanted to know what would happen next. I could envision the settings, Hawthorne Manor, Barbary Asylum, Victoria’s cottage and the outdoor attractions of Cape Calypso, all punctuated by the beautiful Victorian era the story is based in, and an era that enchants me. The ending is a tad predictable, but it works and I don’t think I would have wanted the book to end another way.
Overall, this is a fun little read with an endearing heroine and an alluring story. Once reading has commenced, the 389 pages fly by very quickly. It is worth at least one read.