Thursday, August 12, 2010

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle

Tabby is taken from Ma Hutton's knitting school to serve as a maid at Seldom House, so she thinks. Upon her arrival, she finds there is little for her to do in the big, empty house. She has actually been chosen as a companion to a half wild child with no name. Things are very strange at Seldom House, and become even stranger as Tabby is haunted by the ghost of the maids before her. What happened to them? Is the same fate in store for Tabby?

I'm going to sort of give a spoiler, but not really, since the summary on the back of the book starts out with, "The child who will become Heathcliff is already a savage little creature when Tabby Aykroyd arrives at Seldom House as his nursemaid." So I'm giving anything away the book didn't all ready. Knowing that, I was confused as to the audience of this book. It's written at a middle school level, but seems to assume the reader has read Wuthering Heights. In Dunkle's bio, it says she read Wuthering Heights when she was nine, but I think that most nine year olds, or middle school students for that matter, have. It's not that you couldn't read this book without having read Wuthering Heights, but there's this dramatic reveal at the end which would be a big "so what?" to anyone without knowledge of the book.

This was a very mild ghost story, nothing too scary. Some haunting, some descriptions of the ghosts with their moldy fingers and empty eye sockets, some burying alive (which in all honestly probably would have been enough to scare me as a child), but nothing detailed or intensely scary.

I was a bit bothered by the language, but I think a middle school reader wouldn't be. The language is contemporary, but every now and then there would be throw backs, like Tabby saying "whist" to get the boy to be quiet, and it just felt out of place. Either commit to the language of the time, or just write it in a more contemporary voice. It's fine, especially at this level. So that annoyed me but again, I don't think a middle school kid would much care.

Did you like Wuthering Heights? I didn't. I actually didn't really like any of the Bronte sister's books. I think I'm just not into Gothic romances. Oh, I've just realized! That's why I don't like supernatural romances! Because they are Gothic romances, just with vampires or angels or werewolves or whatever! But seriously, like in Jane Eyre, by the time the mad wife shows up in the middle of the wedding to reveal all, I actually said, "Oh come on!" out loud. Give me Jane Austen any day. She would never dream of putting a mad wife in an attic into one of her books. I didn't like Wuthering Heights mostly because they all could have been just fine but insisted on making their lives miserable. And I know, that's sort of the point, but really, it's kind of awful and not that romantic.

Anyway. The House of Dead Maids. A good read for a middle school girl who wants something sort of scary but not too scary. Available in September.


  1. "The language is contemporary, but every now and then there would be throw backs, like Tabby saying "whist" to get the boy to be quiet, and it just felt out of place."

    I'm so pleased that you chose this particular criticism to make! It gave me a chance to post a nice exploration of Emily Bronte's very modern prose style on my website. The best way to reach it would probably be through my "What's New" page: . But you can get to it as well through the House of Dead Maids section of my website. It's all very regimented and organized--but hey, that's because I used to be a librarian!

  2. Thanks, that sounds interesting. I will definitely take a look!

  3. I didn't noticed anything about the language to be honest, which I guess is a good thing! I really enjoyed it, for a quick read it packed a lot into it.

    ★ Under The Mountain's Review of The House of Dead Maids ★


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