Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama

Laura Amy Schlitz
For ages 10 and up
Candlewick Press, 2006   ISBN: 978-0763629304

Maud Flynn has no way of knowing that her whole life is about to change. Once again she is locked in the orphanage outhouse as a punishment for her rude behavior. This time she is sitting there singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” very loudly, defiant and determined to show the authorities that she does not care what they do to her. Then she hears someone talking to her through the door and soon after she is liberated. Before Maud really has time to take stock of what is going on, the grey-haired and yet still pretty Hyacinth Hawthorne has decided to adopt her and has taken her away from The Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans.

With new clothes to wear and lots of books to read Maud is soon settled into her new home living with Hyacinth, Victoria, and Judith Hawthorne. There is also Muffet, their dumpy housekeeper and cook who cannot hear or speak but with whom Maud develops a strange sort of friendship. Maud quickly learns that she was not adopted just because Hyacinth wants a little girl in her life. She was adopted because Hyacinth needs a child to be a part of the “family business.” The Hawthorne sisters hire themselves out as mediums, supposedly connecting desperate and grieving people with their dear departed loved ones. In actual fact their séances are all a scam and Hyacinth needs Maud to play the part of dead children in their staged ‘performances.’

At first, desperate to please Hyacinth and to earn the love she so badly craves, Maud goes along with the scheme, but as time passes and as she gets to know one of Hyacinth’s victims, Maud finds it harder and harder to live a lie. She wants to have a normal life, and more than anything she wants to be loved and wanted for herself and not for the work she can do.

In this very different book, the author weaves together a story set in the early 1900’s that is full of surprises and startling touches of humor, pathos, and understanding. Eleven year old Maud does not really want that much from life. More than anything she wants to be loved and she wants to belong. She also wants the freedom to be herself. She is, in short, very much like the rest of us, and she is therefore easy to identify with. With descriptions that are rich with imagery, and with a story which evolves in unexpected ways, this is a tale that is both thought provoking and entertaining.