A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz
At the Barbary Asylum, every child was strictly classified: a girl was pretty or plain, clever or stupid, good or bad. Maud knew quite well that she was plain, clever and bad.
Maud Flynn, growing up in the Barbary Asylum, knows exactly how much she's worth: not much. She's willful and plain, and gets into too much trouble to be ever considered for adoption. So when Hyacinth and Judith Hawthorne waltz into Barbary Asylum looking for a child and insist on leaving with Maud, it's hard to tell who is more surprised--the headmistress or Maud herself.
At first, life with the Hawthorne sisters is a dream come true. They buy her new clothes and books, and feed her delicious food. But after the novelty of life outside the Asylum wears off, Maud begins to question the strangeness of her situation--because she is a secret child. The Hawthornes keep her confined to the third floor, and don't let anyone know that they had adopted a child.
Soon, Maud discovers the truth. The Hawthornes are mediums, and they need a child in order to bilk a wealthy woman out of her money as she tries to contact her dead daughter. Maud is willing to do anything to keep her new home and make the Hawthornes love her--but how far is too far?
There is a great idea for a story here, but the thing that really makes this book is Maud. She is just so genuine--she leaps off the page and feels like a real little girl. She's tough and proud and fiesty, but also broken inside. She rarely lets it show, but there are moments when I just wanted to wrap her in my arms and hold her. Maud broke my heart into teeny tiny pieces.
This book also has a chillingly deceptive villain, and what's so impressive is that you only see her through Maud's adoring eyes. Maud is not stupid, but she is desperate for love and desperate to be wanted, so the picture we see of the Hawthornes is colored by what she wants so badly--and yet we still have a very complete, well-rounded picture of the Hawthornes.
That's another thing I love about this book. No one--including Maud's enemies in the Barbary Asylum--is one dimensional. They are all so well-rounded and three dimensional--the villainous characters have their good moments, and the good characters sometimes have a temper and make hasty unfortunate decisions. Everyone is real.
This is the second time I'm reading this book, and the second time it has made me tear up at the end. It's a quiet book, but it's the kind of book that burrows into your heart and finds a permanent home there.