From School Library Journal
Grade 4-6–Verna and her sister Carlie are still dealing with the death of their mother and the arrival of her harsh and dour sister, Aunt Maude, when their father accepts a position as a staff doctor at a hospital for the mentally ill. When he brings Eleanor, a young patient recovering from depression, into the home to help with the chores, Aunt Maude sees her as a threat while the girls welcome her with joy. Though Maude and Eleanor's father bring condemnation and pain into Eleanor's life, the children, their father, and the hospital administrator reach out to her with acceptance and love. The story explores the prejudice that shadowed the lives of the mentally ill at the turn of the century as well as what it means to be normal. As Verna stands up for what she thinks is right while trying out questionable means to attain her goals, the author allows readers to experience the development of her maturity and character. At the conclusion of the story, readers see a real girl who has not learned all of life's lessons and has not made all the right choices but is still in the process of learning and growing. A thoroughly enjoyable read.–Debra Banna, Sharon Public Library, MA
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When her father, a well-known psychiatrist, accepts a position at a remote asylum in northern Michigan, Verna is reluctant to leave their home, which holds happy memories of her mother, who died two years earlier in 1898. Once settled into their cozy new house on the asylum grounds, though, Verna and her younger sister welcome their new life, particularly after the arrival of their young maid, Eleanor. Although she is a melancholia patient, Eleanor brings a warmth that contrasts sharply with the girls’ guardian, Aunt Maude, who can be “as menacing as a hornet’s nest.” Tensions rise as Aunt Maude grows furiously jealous of the affection Eleanor shares with the girls, who, in turn, plot to send Maude packing. Descriptions of the sprawling, grand asylum and its mysteriously locked wings may lead readers to suppose that they’ve begun a gothic novel. They’ll quickly realize, though, that the evocative setting is a backdrop to the sensitive, sometimes comedic family story filled with character lessons for Verna and compassionate questions about mental illness and its treatment. Grades 3-6. --Gillian Engberg