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A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz (thoughts)

April 8, 2013

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
I have mixed feelings about my first audiobook of the year: A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz. On the plus side: spiritualists! ghosts! the seaside! plucky orphan who loves to read! Gothic inspiration! ‘Victorian’ era historical novel set in the US! These qualities are not to be dismissed. Schlitz is wonderful at conjuring up scenes, so that I could see the story playing out, and the imagery was often remarkable (and occasionally goosebump inducing!). And Maud (the eleven-year-old orphan and our narrator)’s voice as narrator stays consistent throughout. The plot is well-paced and its liveliness will certainly engage readers.

So what’s the down side? Well, first of all sometimes it felt a bit too pat. Somehow, the inclusion of all those factors felt a tiny bit artificial rather than organic, if that makes sense. I had similar qualms about The Thirteenth Tale, which I know many of you loved unreservedly, so perhaps I’m just a bit too cynical for my own good. ;) But more importantly, at times I felt beat over the head with the book’s main themes. I understand that A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is aimed at children, but according to the publisher the intended age bracket is 10-14. At that age, I was certainly old enough to read between the lines more than Schlitz trusts her readers to do. If I had read this as a child (younger than 10, though), I probably would have loved it and just ignored the too blatant spelling out of certain things (see: my childhood love for C.S. Lewis and Frances Hodgson Burnett), but as an adult I sometimes became a bit frustrated.

So now you know why I don’t consider it a five-star read. But I still very much enjoyed my time with the novel and am glad to have read it. Let’s return to the good, shall we? In addition to all those factors that made me smile, I found the internal journey Schlitz takes Maud on quite powerful. You see, Maud is not a pretty child, not at all like the children who star in the books she loves so much. And she knows that not being pretty is part of why most adults don’t like her. She also knows her intelligence is part of the problem; I loved how self aware she was of adults’ reactions to her, because it’s true. When you’re a child, your whole life depends on the adults around you, so you’re anything but oblivious to your effect on them. At the same time, when she meets new adults, their looks affect her judgement of them too. Anyway, her black-and-white ideas of good children/adults and bad children/adults, loveable ones and unloveable, play a large part in how she filters her experiences.

This was a good book, which in my opinion had the potential to be an extraordinary one. I wish Schlitz had chosen to assume a more sophisticated audience, and I’ve read other books marketed to a similar age range that do so, so it’s not merely that. I still very much enjoyed the time I spent with Maud, and I’m indebted to the trip Schlitz took me on. In fact, I can still taste a bit of sea salt on my tongue.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2013 7:45 pm

    Interesting. This book has been on my TBR list for a while, and now I’m very intrigued. I might just have to bump it higher up in the list!

  2. April 8, 2013 7:50 pm

    I just finished reading a really dear book that would have been a great favorite with me if I’d read it as a kid. That happens a lot now! It always makes me sad because I imagine how many times young me would have checked it out from the library, and how nostalgic I’d feel rereading it as a grown-up.

    • April 9, 2013 9:49 pm

      Yes! I feel that way about all DWJ (altho I still love her as an adult) and Wolves of Willoughby Chase which I read last month. I want to be able to give young me book suggestions! Hmph.

  3. April 8, 2013 8:45 pm

    I really liked Splendors & Glooms, but I hadn’t heard much about this one – thanks for the review! How did you think it compared?

    • April 9, 2013 9:49 pm

      Hi! This was my first book by her so I can’t compare. I love the cover of Splendors & Glooms though. :)

  4. April 8, 2013 9:14 pm

    I find I’m avoiding books written for younger age groups now, for this very reason. I’ll find one that I think I would have been enthralled with as a kid or teen, but as an adult they just don’t quite work for me. And then I’m disappointed, even though it is really a good book on its own merit.

  5. April 10, 2013 8:52 am

    I have been curious about this book because it has all the hallmarks of a great read, but I haven’t felt a compulsion to rush out and read it either… I am just proud of myself for getting into audiobooks this year. :)

  6. April 10, 2013 6:11 pm

    I also really enjoyed Splendors & Glooms, but haven’t read this one. I thought it sounded interesting but have never got around to it, yet. I know what you mean by a more sophisticated audience as reader, for example, I thought that Joanne Owens’ Puppet Master was, well, masterful at blending younger readers’ expectations and adult ones.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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