Saturday, May 26, 2007

How it Happened in Peach Hill

How it Happened in Peach Hill, by Marthe Jocelyn


It is 1924 and in Peach Hill, a small town in New York, spiritualism and a fierce desire to reconnect with those lost in the Great War is rampant. What better place for Madame Caterina and her teenage daughter Annie, a pair of fraudulent clairvoyants, to set up shop. Annie and her mother have just been run out of one town, and here they decide to try a new twist to get customers. Annie will pretend to be a "wonky-eyed, chapped-lipped moron" which will serve the dual purpose of allowing her to overhear people's secrets unnoticed, and will also get them a fair amount of pity and an in with the good people of the town.

This is all going swimmingly, and Annie is able to glean a lot of useful information about future customers, until she starts to be bullied by local children. Even this she could deal with until she falls for one of the kids, Sam Sloan. Annie realizes that by asking her to take on this character, her mother has taken away her freedom and her humanity. Then, when Annie has an accident and her mother loudly prays for her recovery, Annie seizes her opportunity, and enacts a miracle cure, forcing her mother to play along. Now Annie has a whole new set of problems. Having stood up to her mother for the first time, it becomes increasingly clear that Madame Caterina's treatment is in no way loving, and is in every way controlling for the purposes of furthering her own interests.

To make matters worse, Annie now has to attend school, where she has great difficulty fitting in. Madame Caterina seems to have taken up with a wealthy new client, who may or may not have schemes of his own. Annie can't be sure whether Sam likes her for herself, or because he thinks she has special powers. And various happenings in town make Annie fear that they may soon be exposed as the frauds they are.

This is a beautifully written book. It is complex, and Annie's personal journey is engrossing. Her coming to terms with her mother's mistreatment, and her development into a young person who can care for herself are believable and touching. Some of the supporting characters do seem surprisingly one dimensional for such a full story, but that is really the only flaw I can find with the telling.

Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Ha! What a great-sounding plot! I have to check this book out. :D