Reviewed October 14, 2010.
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2010. 146 pages.
I've never liked ghost stories. Too much imagination, I think. So I wasn't planning to pick up this particular Advanced Review Copy at ALA Annual Conference -- until I saw the author's name, and then I snatched it up.
I consider Clare Dunkle a friend. We met when we both lived in Germany, after I raved about her first book, The Hollow Kingdom, on my blog right before she was doing a book signing at the local BX. We met up a few times after that, and I got to know her and like her. And her books continue to be fabulous. Here are my reviews of Close Kin, In the Coils of the Snake, By These Ten Bones, and The Sky Inside.
I still put off reading it, since the creepy cover freaked me out. (Though I'm sure it will entice many teen readers who come to the library looking for "scary" books.) But then I learned that Clare was doing a Blog Tour and asked her to include my site. So on October 14, 2010, I'm posting my first Author Interview! Her answers to my questions turned out to be fascinating, so I'm excited about it.
I read the book surrounded by people on a jet with my reading light firmly ON. I was coming back from the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium in Boston. I had decided against reading it alone in my hotel room in a strange city! That was a good choice, because the book is definitely creepy. But it's intriguing, and definitely got me hooked.
The House of Dead Maids is a prequel to Wuthering Heights. Now, believe it or not, I've never read Wuthering Heights. I had meant to, and even bought a paperback copy. I think I decided not to after all when my German landlady mentioned that she had to read it in her English class, and she thought it was awful. She asked why anyone would want to read such a horrible story. So I put it a little further on the back burner.
Clare assured me that I could read The House of Dead Maids before reading Wuthering Heights, and she'd expressed that she was hoping her book would get more readers for the classic novel. I do intend to finally read Wuthering Heights now and see what I think. I did read Jane Eyre long ago and completely fell in love with it. Reading The House of Dead Maids, Clare Dunkle completely succeeded in creating a voice that reminded me of Jane Eyre. She says she was trying to write like the Brontes, and I think she did. The voice pulled me into that world and that kind of mindset.
As always, Clare's writing feels like it was actually written at the time -- which makes you believe all the more that the supernatural happenings "really" happened. In this case, she wove in superstitions and rituals of the time for a terribly creepy tale.
Tabby Ackroyd is the narrator, an orphan taken to serve at a creepy mansion. She is given charge of a wild young boy who claims to be master of the house. Tabby doesn't know what happened to the orphan who went there to serve before her. But then she sees ghosts all over the house and grounds. It turns out they were both brought there for a sinister purpose.
I like the way Tabby Ackroyd turns out to be the housekeeper of the Bronte sisters. I found it quite plausible that she told the girls, who loved ghost stories, this tale of a wild boy who wanted to be master. It was left for them to tell what became of him....