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We Hear the Dead Paperback – May 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6–9—Maggie and Kate Fox were real celebrities in the mid-1800s, sisters said to have an ability to communicate with the dead. Salerni brings the séance culture vividly to life without ever pretending that the mediums believed in their own "ghost rapping." Maggie, the older sister, reveals in the opening pages that her spiritualism is deception and humbug and prank. An occasional chapter is written by Kate, who believes that she can truly communicate with the dead, even if the actual rapping comes from trickery. Egged on by an older sister, the girls find they enjoy the perks of their fame, and Maggie in particular is pleased to reassure grieving patrons that their loved ones are at peace. Despite the seeming focus on the supernatural, the novel offers much historical context and several richly developed subplots, most notably the romance between Maggie Fox and Elisha Kane. Kane was a renowned explorer, and his funeral was second in size only to that of Abraham Lincoln's. The author's word choices ("spectacles," "peevishly," "devilment," "bedchamber") draw readers into the past. She paints vivid scenes of life in upstate New York during a time when exposed ankles were shocking and the Underground Railroad offered a dangerous route to freedom for both conductors and slaves. Historical fiction at its best.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
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From Booklist

In upstate New York in 1848, two young sisters, Maggie and Kate Fox, created a spiritual hoax to frighten a detested cousin. Through eerie rapping sounds produced by cracking joints, they convinced their family and then the whole town that they could communicate with ghosts. What began as a childhood prank turned into their adult livelihood, and the sisters became famous, even “rapping” for First Lady Jane Pierce. Alternating narration between Maggie and Kate, Salerni imagines the young adult years of these closely bonded, very different siblings: Maggie feels guilty for their trickery, while Kate believes that she has a sixth sense and has never “intentionally deceived anyone.” Salerni details the sisters' performances and their troubled family dynamics, but much of the book's later half focuses on a passionate, fraught romance between Maggie and a wealthy explorer, leaving Kate's story underdeveloped. Still, the events, based in fact, are inherently fascinating, and older readers may want to move on to the several adult books, listed in an appended bibliography, about the wily and tragic Foxes. Grades 8-11. --Gillian Engberg

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 17 years
  • Grade Level: 7 - 12
  • Lexile Measure: 1070L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (May 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402230923
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402230929
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dianne K. Salerni is a former elementary school teacher living in Chester County, Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters.

Dianne's first novel, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks 2010), recounts the true story of Maggie Fox, a teenaged girl credited with the invention of the séance in 1848. A short film based on We Hear the Dead and titled The Spirit Game premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Her second novel, The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH 2013), is inspired by a real historical mystery in the mountains of Pennsylvania and was named a Junior Library Guild Selection, a finalist in the Tome Society IT List, and a Best YA Historical Novel for 2013 by BookPage.

The Eighth Day, a middle grade fantasy about a secret day of the week, is the first in a series by HarperCollins, which also includes The Inquisitor's Mark (Book 2) and The Morrigan's Curse (Book 3).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on April 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
When mischievous sisters Maggie and Kate Fox hear that their dreaded niece, Lizzie, is coming for a visit, they immediately start thinking of ways to get rid of her. Their prank takes the form of rapping noises that spell out messages from the dead, but instead of making Lizzie flee in fear, their plan backfires, and soon they have not only Lizzie and their family convinced, but the whole town.

All of a sudden, neighbors want to hold séances to give messages to their deceased loved ones, an innocent man is accused of murder, and a reporter comes to investigate, turning their harmless little prank into something much bigger.

The girls are thrilled with all the attention, but when their older sister, Leah, makes a visit and witnesses a spirit rapping for herself, she immediately sees through their shenanigans and recognizes that it is one of their tricks. Rather than turning them in, however, she gives them a choice: come with her and allow her to take charge of the rappings and make the decisions, or be revealed as frauds. Under Leah's control, the spirit circles turn into a business venture, as she starts charging admission and adds a vast arsenal of spooky tricks to the evening's entertainment.

The sisters travel around holding seances, and their fame grows, giving rise to spiritualism and mesmerism, and causing many more "mediums" to be discovered. Not everyone is impressed, though, and more than once they find themselves confronted by disbelievers and skeptics, even having to flee for their lives on occasion.

One of these skeptics is Elisha Kent Kane, a charismatic and well-known Arctic explorer who, despite his misgivings about her occupation, takes a great liking to Maggie and begins to court her.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By E. Kristin Anderson on December 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
Man. I'm not a big person for history. Wait, that's a lie. I majored in CLASSICS for crying out loud. I love history. But sometimes reading about it can be dry. I have yet to meet a history textbook that I could befriend. And my high school history teacher? Let's just say she and I never saw eye to eye. But that doesn't mean I can't get sucked in by a good historical fiction -- especially a story filled with intrigue based on the lives of some really real -- really spooky -- sisters.

Dianne K. Salerni`s WE HEAR THE DEAD is as riveting as it is mysterious. If you haven't heard of the Fox sisters, you'll want to know everything about them by the time you're finished with Salerni`s story. Maggie Fox -- the narrator for most of the story -- never meant for a prank to turn into a nationwide phenomenon. When her much older sister Leah's daughter Lizzie comes to visit, Maggie and her younger sister Kate are none too thrilled. Lizzie is seventeen, slightly older than Maggie and Kate, and not the brightest crayon in the box. So when Kate and Maggie insinuate that the sounds coming from the bedroom of their rental house might be ghosts, Lizzie falls for it instantly.

Before long, the Fox girls' parents are looking around for the source of the sounds, followed by the neighbors. Soon, Kate and Maggie are so entrenched in their prank that they can't turn it around. They're making "rapping" noises to feign spirit communication and are acting as mediums. And when Leah finds out, she tells Kate and Maggie they have a choice: do what she says and take their act to a whole new level, or be exposed.

As the girls move around the Northeast promoting Spiritualism, Maggie falls deeper and deeper into the ruse, while Kate begins to believe that she actually has "the sight.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J.Prather TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
We Hear The Dead was not what I expected. This is an intelligent, well developed story that takes place in the mid 1800's and chronicles the emergence of the Fox sisters into the the spiritualism craze of the period. The writing reflects the time, adding charm to the characters and a real sense of the period.

Maggie and Kate are quite young when they first decide to play a trick on a visiting relative that they don't like. How their simple prank escalates into a sensationalistic career for them both is quite a story. The book offers up an effective commentary on our willingness to believe what we want to believe, whether it be the Fox sister's client's willingness to believe in the hereafter, or the sisters own efforts to convince themselves that what they are doing is worthwhile.

The author does a great job of creating characters that are complex and believable. I didn't always like Maggie and Kate but I did feel like I understood them. Their sister Leah is a wonderfully complex character and I spent quite a bit of the story trying to figure out her motivations. She was in turn infuriating, courageous, criminal, and loving.

The author brings in important issues of the period, and by tying in the love story between Maggie and Elisha, truly places her story firmly in its place in history. This is a great piece of historical fiction in that it tells a unique story and gives the reader a true sense of the time, the feeling of the country, and what it was like to be a young teen in a somewhat unconventional situation.

This is a big recommend for any fan of historical fiction. It's a great read for anyone ages 10 and up, with no content or language concerns. This book made me want to read more about Maggie and Elisha, so I was very glad to see the author's inclusion of ideas for further reading. I think anyone who reads this book will be searching for more information about these intriguing characters. Don't miss this one!
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