Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dickens is the New Dystopia?

Hooper, Mary. Fallen Grace.
Grace and her sister Lily have a place to live, but are just barely surviving by selling bunches of watercress in 1861 London. When Grace delivers a baby (the product of a rape when she was at a training school), it is almost a relief when it is stillborn. While taking the body to the London Necropolis to slip into another coffin, thus averting the fa
te of a paupers' grave pit, she meets James Solent (into whose sister's casket the baby has gone) and Mrs. Unwin, a funeral director who offers her employment as a professional mourner. Needing to get back to her sister, who is "simple minded", Grace hurries back to Seven Dials. Things get worse after their boarding house is condemned, and Grace does go to work for the Unwins. They take in Lily because there has been an advertisement in the paper for a Lily Parkes-- who is set to get a large inheritance! When Grace finds that Lily is missing, she enlists the help of James, and the two unravel the evil machinations of the Unwin clan, and find out some secrets about the girls' past.
Strengths: **SIGH** Loved this. The Dickensian London setting (Grace meets Dickens at the Unwins' funeral emporium when he is buying mourning for Prince Albert's death), the horrible circumstances over which the sisters triumph, their rags-to-riches story. The discussion of funerary practices i
n Victorian London, complete with afterword about the London Necropolis, was fascinating. Also a plus-- At the Sign of the Sugared Plum and its sequel, Petals in the Ashes, are very popular in my library. Picky Reader, a big fan of A Drowned Maiden's Hair, is reading this.
Weaknesses: Cover doesn't say much. There is some discussion of the sexual abuse of both Grace and Mary, but it is very delicately done, so I think it's okay for middle school, but maybe not elementary. Some of Hooper's books are for older readers.

Buzbee, Lewis. The Haunting of Charles Dickens.
Meg is upset that her brother, Orion, has been missing for six months. Her printer father is reluctant to let the family out of the house now, but Meg is drawn one night to Satis House, to which she travels across the rooftops! Once there, she sees family friend Charles Dickens, who escorts her home. She also thinks she sees Orion in the background of a seance that she witnesses in the empty house. With Mr. Dickens' help, she starts to find more and more clues that her brother has been press-ganged and is being held against his will in London. The two take trips into the underbelly of London, and Meg starts to realize how badly some children are treated. Will the two find Orion, and will they be able to do anything to help the plight of the children?
Strengths: Beautiful writing, and a fun introduction of Dickens as a character. Meg is a character with whom I would want to be friends; I loved her family. There were a lot of references to characters in Dickens' work, and although I feel I missed most of them, this book might well entice better readers to look at Dickens' books. I myself want to read Oliver Twist now!
Weaknesses: The quick introduction of the ghost of a street child wasn't developed, especially since the incident is reflected in the title. Yes, I know he is also haunted by the actual children, but the ghost was an odd note. The illustrations were a nice touch, although I wish there were more of them.

If I buy both of these, I have a good excuse to also buy Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London when it comes out in November.

Personal note: Ran my third 5k yesterday with a time of 33:23, putting me 5th out of 11 runners in my age group! SO ridiculously pleased with myself!


  1. I used to love reading novels by Dickens and anything else that took place in Dickensian London when I was in school and these books sound oddly interesting and enticing. Thanks for the review and you should be ridiculously pleased about your running achievment.

  2. Congratulations! And, coincidentally I just read Fallen Grace, too. Very much enjoyed it--I'm not familiar with Hooper's other work and wondering if I should check it out.

  3. I would definitely check out her other books! as I said, At the Sign is very popular. It's about the plague in London in the 1600s, and the sequel is about the great fire.

  4. I think Fallen Grace is terrific, and agree with you about the cover. A bit blah.

  5. Anonymous12:03 PM EDT

    I have not read it but I have heard good things about Haunting Charles Dickens.