Dr. Edward Martin is a psychiatrist and widower with two young daughters: Verna and Caroline (aka Carlie). Typhoid took his wife two years ago, and his sister-in-law Maude moved into their home to take care of the girls. When Dr. Martin takes a job at an asylum in Michigan, the girls are hopeful that Aunt Maude will stay behind.
Despite Aunt Maude's presence, the girls enjoy living on the asylum grounds, in part, due to Eleanor Miller, who is a recovering patient at the facility. Eleanor is cheerful and likes to explore and teach the girls new things. The girls' affection for Eleanor pushes Maude to be even more hateful than she was before. When she gets Eleanor fired and sent home to her family farm, the girls double down on their efforts to force Aunt Maude to leave and get Eleanor back in their lives.
While I enjoyed the story - it is well written and gives readers much to think about - I struggled with its audience. Although it is described for middle-grade students, it seems a bit dated for them to connect with and appreciate. That is not to say it isn't a good story - Verna and Eleanor are exceptional characters; Dr. Martin's relationship with his girls can also generate some interesting discussion. Overall, though, I think the story is too narrow for the book to find a strong readership.
Readers who like history, strong characters, and the comfort of a familiar story (i.e., not a lot of surprises) will find this enjoyable.
Readers who don't like or are upset by mean people will not enjoy this book. Aunt Maude is passive aggressive and does mean things on purpose to make others - including the children - look bad. Eleanor's father is abusive. Although not described graphically, there is no disguising his abusiveness.
This historical fiction novel explores themes of family and mental health.
The story is set in 1900 and Drs. Martin and Thurston are introducing what were then new concepts in caring for mentally ill patients. Some of their ideas can be found in daily life - not just for mental health patients - and may be worth exploring.
The principal cast - Verna, Carly, Dr. Martin, Aunt Maude - give readers plenty to talk about with regard to relationships, sharing affection, boundaries, etc. Eleanor and her brother Tom (who doesn't get a lot of "screen time" but is a valuable character) also can get readers thinking about understanding oneself and others.
11 and Up
10 and Up
Borrow or skip.