by Alyxandra Harvey
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Violet Willoughby, the heroine of Haunting Violet is the sixteen-year-old daughter of a woman who makes her living as a fake spiritualist in Victorian England. Violet has to sneak laudanum into the clients' drinks, hide hairpins in seance rooms during the wee hours, and strap bellows under her skirts so she can produce mysterious breezes. She knows her mother's tricks, so naturally she doesn't believe in ghosts. But at a country house party, a real ghost shows up, and only Violet can see her.
The impatient dead girl materializes on the other side of a train window before Violet even arrives. "Long translucent hair drifted as if the girl were underwater. There was a cloying scent in the still air, like lilies wilting by green water." Violet begins to realize the girl was murdered and wants the killer exposed. But the ghost can't speak, so it's up to Violet to figure out who killed her.
Colin, the penniless orphan her mother took in to help with chores, is off-limits for marriage. Violet is supposed to be encouraging a wealthy tradesman's son to propose. But when her investigation turns dangerous, Colin's support becomes essential and his kisses hard to resist.
American teens may find some unfamiliar language, but that can be part of the fun of a good historical novel. There are a few grammatical lapses in the writing, probably due to the hasty editing that has become all too common in recent years. Most readers will forgive them. The spooky, gently humorous story and the likeable heroine make Haunting Violet a tale absorbing enough to keep readers awake past their bedtimes - and wondering about that mysterious draft in the curtains. (2011; 344 pages. Recommended for ages 12-17.)
More about Haunting Violet at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other YA novels about nineteenth-century spiritualists:
We Hear the Dead by Dianne Salerni (2010), based on the true story of Maggie and Kate Fox, sisters in the 1850s who became famous for their supposed ability to speak with the dead. More info.
Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown (2010), about a young woman who consults a spiritualist photographer to communicate with her dead brother's spirit in an attempt to learn the truth about the death of her fiancé, a Civil War soldier. More info
Nonfiction about mediums, ghosts and the paranormal:
Looking Beyond: A Teen's Guide to the Spiritual World by James van Praagh (2003), a book about present-day spiritualism and the paranormal written by a practicing psychic. More info
The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox by Nancy Rubin Stuart (2005), about Maggie Fox, who with her sister Katy claimed to be able to contact the spirits of the dead, and in later life revealed their activities as a hoax; written for adult readers. More info
Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable--And Couldn't by Steve Volk (2011), by a journalist who researches the paranormal and learns there is more evidence for it than he expected to find; written for adult readers. More info
Psychic Defense at the Atlantic Paranormal Society website: a few tips Violet could have used
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