Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Quarter-Pie Window

The Quarter-Pie Window

Marianne Brandis
For ages 12 and up
Tundra Books, 2003   ISBN: 978-0887766244

Emma and her little bother John are once again on their way to begin a new life, and neither are very sure that they are going into a life that will make them happy. Some months previously their family was killed in a fire, and Emma and John were the only survivors. They were taken in by some neighbors and were quite happy with the Wilbur family, and soon adjusted to living without their parents and siblings. Then their life was turned upside down once more when their father’s sister, a Mrs. McPhail, turned up, saying that she was now their guardian. Apparently Emma’s father wrote a will naming his sister, or rather his stepsister, as the guardian of his children should anything happen to him and his wife.

So, now Emma and John are on their way to York. It is only when they get there that they both realize that their step aunt plans for them to be little more than servants. Emma will work as a chambermaid in Mrs. McPhail’s hotel, and John will work in a livery stable nearby. At night they will share a small attic room which has one real asset. This is a quarter pie window in the wall and it becomes Emma’s connection with the outside world. It is her one escape from the life that she feels trapped in.

Over time Emma learns a bit more about her peculiar and distant aunt, and she becomes sure that the woman is not quite being honest in her dealings with the children. What exactly is Mrs. McPhail up to, and furthermore, can Emma find out more about her parents? Emma has so little left of her old life and she wants so much to find out who her parents were ,and what they were like, hoping perhaps to feel closer to them.

This is often a disturbing book. The children's aunt is certainly unkind and often, in the case of Emma, she is downright cruel. Emma learns a great deal about the new world that she has entered, and even discovers a new side to her quiet and almost philosophical brother. It is hard at times to accept that these two brave children must suffer so much when all they did was have the misfortune of being made orphans. At the same time we can feel proud of Emma’s determination to be the mistress of her own life and destiny. Emma becomes a girl who will not simply let life happen to her. She is a likable and sympathetic character, and Marianne Brandis has given us someone to admire and think about.

This is the second in a series of three books about the adventures and misadventures of Emma and John Anderson. The other books are The Tinderbox and The Sign of the Scales.  Each book in this series can stand on its own.