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Review of The Secret of Nightingale Wood

The Secret of Nightingale Wood
by Lucy Strange
Intermediate, Middle School    Chicken House/Scholastic    288 pp.
10/17    978-1-338-15747-5    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-15749-9    $10.99

It’s 1919; the Great War is over; and twelve-year-old Hen and her family — Mama, Father, baby “Piglet,” and Nanny Jane — have just moved to an English country house where they hope to recover from the recent death of Hen’s brother. But Father must rush off to the Continent on business, and Mama, incapacitated by grief, is virtually incarcerated in her room by sinister Doctor Hardy, who is plotting to lock her up in an asylum. Then Hen meets a thin, ragged woman who lives in nearby Nightingale Wood. Is she a witch? A forgotten fairy-tale princess? Or might she be the one person who really understands Mama’s grieving? Suspense and uncertainty build inexorably in this story that seems to tremble between realism and fairy tale, with the prospect of horror continually on the horizon. Strange vividly evokes the era’s frightening approach to mental illness and its “man of the house” order of authority; in Hen, she creates a protagonist both loving and lovable, stalwart in her efforts to save her mother and, indeed, her whole family. This is a thoroughly satisfying, old-fashioned-seeming story with a heroine all the more admirable for her gentleness, integrity, and dogged courage in a world of unreliable adults. Hen’s avid reading of fairy tales, Keats, and Victorian children’s books enhances the story’s rich literary texture.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker About Deirdre Baker

Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca
at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the
past tense.

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