Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Manor of Secrets

Manor of Secrets

Katherine Longshore
For ages 13 and up
Scholastic, 2014   ISBN: 978-0545567589

Sixteen year old Lady Charlotte Edmonds has the kind of life many young women in England would love to have. She lives in a beautiful home in the lap of luxury, she has never gone hungry, nor has she worked a day in her life.

One would think that she would be content with her lot and yet she is not. She feels trapped. The path that she is expected to take – an advantageous marriage and motherhood – makes her wish that she could run far away. Charlotte wants to have adventures and see the world, she does not want to be forced to marry a man chosen by her mother; nor does she want to live the life of a society matron. She does not want to trade the prison that is her life now for another prison.

Janie Seward is the daughter of the cook in Charlotte’s home, The Manor. She wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and create wonderful meals that will delight diners. Janie works hard and she puts up with a lot of grief from the other servants, who seem to enjoy picking on her because she is the cook’s daughter.

One day, during a lavish garden party that is being held at The Manor, Charlotte breaks away from the event and she sees Janie, who is wading in a nearby lake to cool off. Charlotte decides to try wading in the water for herself and in the end has to be secreted back into the house via the servant’s quarters because she gets wet and muddy. Janie helps Charlotte to get back to her room via the servant’s stairs and thus saves her from being on the receiving end of her mother’s ire.

After their chance meeting, Charlotte seeks Janie out. She likes and admires the girl and would so much like to be her friend. Janie knows full well that such a friendship just isn’t possible. The daughter of an aristocrat cannot be friends with a kitchen maid; the personal lives of those above and below stairs must be kept separate. Unfortunately, this fact of life is something that Charlotte cannot seem to understand, and she begins to make some dangerous choices, putting Janie into a difficult position. Janie feels sorry for lonely Charlotte. She knows that the young woman lives in a world where “rules come first and people last,” but she also knows that she could ruin her own prospects if she steps over the line.

Charlotte’s life is made all the more difficult because she and her mother do not have a close relationship. Indeed, Lady Diane is a cold and unsympathetic woman who seems to think only of getting Charlotte married off as soon as possible. Their already difficult relationship gets even cooler when Lady Diane’s sister arrives. Clearly there is bad blood between the sisters and Charlotte is eager to find out the cause. She never imagines that the reason for the sisters’ rift is a secret that could literally turn her life upside down, and that would disrupt the established order of things at The Manor to its core.

This wonderful novel beautifully explores the class divisions that once existed between the wealthy and the working classes in England. We see how strict the rules were both above and below stairs, and how those who broke those rules were punished for their transgressions.