Eleven-year-old Maud lives in an orphanage in the early 1900s. It is a cheerless place, with harsh teachers who consider her a troublemaker, and in fact the opening scene of the novel shows Maud locked in the outhouse as punishment for her outspoken, unladylike behavior. Not one to be unduly cowed by such punishment (and also in an attempt to keep her mind off how very cold she is), she sits in the dark belting out "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Her singing draws the attention of Hyacinth Hawthorne, an elderly woman who has come to the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans in order to adopt a child. The director of the asylum, a thoroughly unpleasant woman, insists that Maud is most unsuitable, but Hyacinth and her sister bring Maud home with them nonetheless.
Maud is delighted to be away from the Asylum, and is astonished when she is presented with books and lovely new clothes. However, something is a bit odd about her situation. No one is to know that she lives with the Hawthorne sisters; she must remain indoors or in the rear walled garden at all times, and never go close to the curtained windows in the evening. She is told that when they feel they can trust her, they will let her in on the secret. For now, Maud is content to read her books and spend a few glorious minutes with Hyacinth, her favorite of the sisters, whenever she can. Maud is determined to be good in a way that she never was at the orphanage, and she does everything she can in order to please Hyacinth, who is funny and irreverent, not at all what she expected an old woman to be. Little does she know what shadowy pathways Hyacinth will lead her down...
I won't say any more about the plot, because it's best to let it unfold on its own, complete with twists and turns, dark secrets revealed. Maud is a feisty, likable heroine who makes plenty of mistakes (after all, she hasn't been given much guidance in her short life), but she has a good heart and is willing to learn from experience. I loved the characters in this novel, particularly the depth of characterization of the adults. The Hawthorne sisters are presented as real people with real failings but also positive qualities, and Muffet, their deaf maid, was my favorite character in the book besides Maud. I enjoyed this one very much. It is gripping, compelling, and often touching, with a timeless quality that reminded me of The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, although it delves a bit more into the darker side of human nature.
A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Alma Cuervo (Recorded Books, 2007)
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