Author: Paul Elwork
Synopsis (Courtesy of IndieBound): “Emily Stewart is the girl who claims to stand between the living and the dead. During the quiet summer of 1925, she and her brother, Michael, are thirteen-year-old twins-privileged, precocious, wandering aimlessly around their family’s estate. One day, Emily discovers that she can secretly crack her ankle in such a way that a sound appears to burst through the stillness of midair. Emily and Michael gather the neighborhood children to fool them with these ‘spirit knockings.’
Soon, however, this game of contacting the dead creeps into a world of adults still reeling from World War I. When the twins find themselves dabbling in the uncertain territory of human grief and family secrets- knock, knock-everything spins wildly out of control.”
Thoughts: Grief is a tricky thing. It can cause someone to give up, to barricade oneself behind closed doors and remove oneself from the world as a way to compensate. Conversely, it can cause one to romanticize the past, to view a relationship through rose-colored glasses and consider past situations as better than they actually were. Yet, no matter how one reacts to grief, the one overarching issue that everyone has is the lack of closure. It is this need for closure in which the Stewart twins find themselves ensnared.
The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead explores this world of grief through the eyes of Emily, as she deals with the repercussions of her actions and understands just how far one is willing to go to obtain closure with a dearly departed. The story ultimately crosses generations, with Emily uncovering family secrets and the impact of grief on her own ancestors. These secrets are intriguing, but Emily’s reactions to them are what make the story. Emily is an interesting character, seemingly heartless and yet filled with guilt. Watching Emily uncover the power she has over people and struggling with this guilt is at once horrifying and yet hopeful. She understands that she is fulfilling a need within people’s lives, and her discovery of just how tenuous the line is between helping and hurting is fascinating.
For those who are have read about the Fox sisters in previous novels, like Deborah Noyes’ Captivity, it would be easy to dismiss The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead. Yet, unlike these other novels, Mr. Elwork explores the deception behind the Spiritualism movement and how easy it would be to take advantage of grieving people with minimal effort. This approach is refreshing in its honesty, and yet, he writes in such a way that the line between fact and fiction is blurred, and what seems like deception becomes a form of therapy.
The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead is one of those novels that sounds simple in its concept but ends up being so much more detailed in its execution. To describe it as a novel about grief is too simplistic, as is the idea that it is about deception. It is about that and so much more. When done poorly, something this complicated could be confusing and distracting. However, Mr. Elwork is able to bring together all the of the elements in a most effective manner, creating a story that is creepy and yet heart wrenching. Amy Einhorn Books has done it again with a novel that is fresh and immensely enjoyable in a psychologically uncomfortable way.
Thanks to Adam Khatib from Amy Einhorn Books for my review copy.