By Lesley M.M. Blume
11-year-old Tennyson’s parents have raised her and her sister in isolation in the woods, away from everyone. It is the Depression, and times are hard, especially in the South, but the girls love their free life of adventures and games in the forest and the river. Tennyson is a writer, born one. This is crushing for her fragile mother, Sadie, who has attempted all her life to find the “right words,” to be a published author. One day Tennyson innocently “fixes” one of her mother’s stories and shortly thereafter, Sadie abandons the family.
Everything changes. Their father must go search for Sadie. He sees no choice but to take the girls to their delusional aunt Henrietta at Aigredoux--his family’s ancestral home, and symbol of a heritage he detests. This ruin of house has a wicked and tragic history which it wants to reveal to Tennyson in her dreams. Tennyson dreams her family’s story in words so beautiful that when she writes them down and secretly submits them to “The Sophisticate Magazine,” a publication desperately admired by her departed mother, they publish the stories on the spot. The mysterious author is hailed as the “writer of the next great American novel”. Tennyson really just hopes that her mother, wherever she is, will read her words and return to her.
This is a haunting gothic ghost story that travels between the age of slavery and the Civil War and the Depression Era South. Tennyson observes “how hard history tried to repeat itself” even with her own life. Despite the fact that her father abandoned his betrayal and slavery- tainted heritage, Aigredoux has managed to bring his daughters, the only remaining descendants, back into its walls. Henrietta still seeking the family glories of the past, sees the girls as a commodity to marry off into a wealthy family who would help her restore Aigredoux.
Tennyson comes to see Aigredoux “like a strange poison-like candy that stayed in your blood”. Will she break free and become the first member of her family not crushed by its past? The writing is gorgeous and the story is haunting. One page and you will be in Tennyson’s world.
Reviewed by Vivian