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The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead Hardcover – March 31, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (March 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399157174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399157172
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,761,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Loosely based on true events from the early 20th century, Elwork's first novel poignantly depicts the desperate need of people to believe in life after death. In 1925, at her family's suburban Philadelphia estate, 13-year-old Emily Stewart discovers she can make a loud rapping noise with her ankle. With her sly twin brother, Michael, Emily entertains gullible schoolmates with "knockings" that spirits purportedly make to answer questions about the afterlife. When adults who have suffered the loss of loved ones start consulting her as a spirit medium, her efforts to give them consolation begin to seem increasingly like cruel deceptions. Interweaving Emily's experiences with those of several generations of family and friends devastated by tragic loss, Elwork paints an unforgettable portrait of individuals traumatized by death and unhinged by grief. The subtle and moving portrayal of people in the grip of powerful emotions that overwhelm rational thinking will haunt readers long after they put the book down. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


"Elwork's debut incorporates elements of World War I and early 20th-century spiritualism that will appeal to history enthusiasts, but it is his somber tone and emotional evocation of loss and heartbreak that will win over readers of literary fiction."
-Library Journal

"Family secrets, a love triangle, and a duplicitous magician add to the darkening atmosphere of a thought-provoking novel that blurs the boundaries between faith and trickery."

"Beautifully written... Masterful... If writing can be thought of as a sort of telepathy--a rousing and rendering of spirits--then Elwork is as talented a clairvoyant as any you're likely to encounter."
-Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan

"Wonderful... A mystery story about the greatest mystery there is: can we ever again connect with the loved ones we've lost? Paul Elwork knows why people believe in unknown worlds. I certainly believe in his."
-Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish

"A debut novel about 13-year-old twins, Emily and Michael, who live on a large estate that borders the Delaware River.

The year is 1925 and the twins' father, a wealthy doctor who was something of a hero, is dead. He died in the service of his country while in France, trying to save the lives of American troops injured in battle during the war. The two children thrive on stories of their father, doled out by their mother, Naomi, and the family's only live-in help, Mary. The twins want for nothing but perhaps a little excitement, which they find in an odd and disturbing way: Emily discovers a talent she cannot explain. She can make an odd sound using her ankle bones.
Soon, she and Michael employ her talent; they pretend that Emily can talk to the spirit of one of their ancestors. Regina, who died mysteriously from drowning in the Delaware while still a teenager, becomes the focus of the twins' seances, to which they invite impressionable young friends. Their sessions soon grow increasingly elaborate and before they know it, they are performing for adults, a feat Michael savors, but Emily finds more and more uncomfortable with each lie she tells. In the meantime, Emily has been piecing together her own family's history, reaching back to the days when her forbears moved from a plantation in Virginia to their present home, and discovering family secrets planted along the way. While her mother reacquaints herself with an old friend, Emily digs into the past and finds a family she never knew existed. Meanwhile, the ghost sessions become more serious and disturbing, leaving Emily with the uncomfortable impression that she and Michael have been opening doors that should have remained closed.

An intricate yet beautifully told story that is less about ghosts and more about secrets and how destructive they can be."

More About the Author

Paul Elwork graduated from Temple University and earned a master's degree in English from Arcadia University. This is his first novel. He lives in Philadelphia.

Customer Reviews

The writing was slow and heavy; I plodded to the very end because I thought it would get better.
Lucy O'Finner
Excerpt: No The Review: There are very few books that I have a hard time reading; science manuals, anything recommended to me by my cousin, and this book.
Dark Faerie Tales
It was difficult to get emotionally invested in any of the characters whose motivations were wholly unclear.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Susie-Q on April 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first 3/4 of this book was wonderful. The author created a sense of mystery and started 3 or 4 excellent storylines, past and present.
Then just drops them. Nothing gets resolved. Very little gets wrapped up. And one of the main characters jumps 15 years into the future, takes a short backward glance at it all, and it's over.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rachel McElhany VINE VOICE on April 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One day in 1925, 13 year old Emily Stewart discovers that she has an unusual ability - she can secretly crack a joint in her ankle that sounds like a mysterious knocking sound. Emily and her twin brother Michael decide to put on little performances for the neighborhood children and convince them that these "spirit knockings" are coming from a teenage girl who drowned nearby several years before. Word of these spirit knockings spreads and soon adults wanting to connect with dead loved ones of their own are asking for sessions with Emily and Michael. The twins agree and soon they are in over their heads trying to help adults deal with real grief issues, guilt and family secrets.

At the same Emily and Michael are conducting the spirit knocking sessions and discovering the family secrets of some of the adults in town, Emily is discovering that her own family harbors secrets in its past as well by secretly reading a scrapbook her mother has put together and by talking to her nanny (who was Emily's mother's nanny as well.) The book flashes back to these earlier time periods in Emily's family history as she is learning about them.

This book is more than just a creepy ghost story. It's about lies - the lies we tell ourselves, the lies we tell others and whether or not it's ever okay to deceive someone. And it's about grief and guilt and how those two emotions are intertwined and at times inseparable.

This book had so many layers and was really well-written. It's another fantastic offering from Amy Einhorn books. I really liked it and highly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Krista Cubicleblindness on June 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I found myself pacing this read. I would put it down faster than any other reads, but also found myself picking it up again faster, wanting to know what happens. The book is split into sections and we learn about several different families and the way the war/death/sickness and daily lives have impacted them. The majority of the book we are following twins, Michael and Emily who have decided to spend their long summer days tricking their friends into believing that Emily can talk to the dead. By usuing her angles she can pop them to send off a loud/soft/short or long sound into the air as so noboy can figure out where the sound had come from. She originally played this trick on her brother, who then decided to trick their friends. The tea house they say gets a better ghost reception is where they invite their friends. But this room only provides for a more acoustical sound to arise making it harder to tell where the knocks come from. After a success tricking their friends,
They venture into meeting up with older neighbors whom are wanting to talk to their deceased loved ones and as their (the twins) rules state Emily is "Sprit Knocking" so they can only ask yes or no questions and would hear a knock in return. Many people came away from those meetings with different ideas of what's happening but overall everybody believs because they cannot figure out how she is doing it.
The other sections in this book are family history. The families that shared the land, or the family of the spirits they were trying to contact and what was going on in the war during this time. And how the war effects the families at home.
While I found the writing amazing, and it really kept me coming back, the story made me feel at a loss. Some questions never answered.
Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on April 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The story was a lot more intricate and mysterious than I had expected.
It was a treat to sit back and just enjoy the journey it took me on, layering and weaving the stories of generations of the same family as they lived in the house by the river.
The ending could have been stronger but that didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Book Sake VINE VOICE on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This story focuses more on Emily than Michael (despite the product description), following her around most of the time. She is a charming character who wants to do the "nice" thing while aware that she is doing the wrong thing. Other characters in the book, the ladies that they show Emily's "spirit knockings" to and their tutor to name a few, were featured and made bright spots to what could have been an overly dark story. I would have liked to have seen more of these characters as they seemed to have a lot of stories to tell.

The writing moves back to the past at times, when Emily is discovering her family's history and secrets, but sometimes the movement is jarring and seems unwarranted at that point in the storyline. This happened more towards the last third of the book and this was the point where I began to lose interest. I would have preferred the historical storytelling to appear in a different way to make it flow consistently. The ending was appropriate, but the last portion of the book left me feeling disappointed as many things were not wrapped up.
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