AUTHOR: Clare Dunkle
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt
PUBLICATION DATE: Sept. 14, 2010
SOURCE: public library
GIVE IT TO: MS students who don’t scare easily
SUMMARY: Young maid Tabby Aykroyd travels to Seldom House to look after a naughty little boy who will one day grow up to be Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Tabby has her work cut out for her with the boy, but other evils are afoot in the dusty old house. Ghosts walk the halls daily, and some of them are trying desperately to get Tabby’s attention. Even more disturbing, some of the ghosts are wearing maid uniforms, much like Tabby’s own.
REVIEW: I went through this “read the classics” phase in 10th grade. Wuthering Heights was one of the books I read then, and I remember not really understanding it. I got the gist, but I’d probably enjoy reading it much more (and understand it better) as an adult. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of WH at the time, The House of Dead Maids makes me want to try it again.
As far as reaching readers, Dead Maids has some challenges. It’s not that I disliked it, but I think it has a very limited middle school audience. The style mimics Victorian writing, and just as I struggled with the language in Wuthering Heights in tenth grade, I think many of today’s readers would struggle with the writing style. I think plenty of teens will be drawn to the creepy cover but intimidated by the “fancy” writing style.
The chilling artwork will attract readers, even as it repels some others. Young teens know how much horror they can handle, and for some, the artwork alone would be too much. Izzy’s creepy ghost with the hollowed-out eyes and ice-cold hands will keep sensitive readers up at night.
The book trailer (included below) is well-done, but if I showed it in the library, I would have to warn them about the ghost in the last few frames. Nice and creepy, but not for everyone. I don’t want my sweet babies to be terrified to go to sleep!
On the upside, I like the history of the story and the way it references Wuthering Heights. Tabby Aykroyd was a real person–a maid in the Bronte house who kept the sisters entertained with scary bedtime stories. The way Heathcliff got his name in this story is unique, and I love the ending, where Lockwood takes young Heathcliff to Wuthering Heights, thus beginning Emily Bronte’s chilling tale of Heathcliff and Catherine’s doomed love.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Chilling artwork and an interesting premise. Readers will be attracted to the artwork, book trailer, and short length. The Victorian writing style will be difficult for many young readers, and I see plenty of them checking it out and abandoning it early.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don’t have it, but I just ordered it. Audience is limited, but I do have some students who would love it. I predict plenty of checkout but not many actually finishing it.
READALIKES: Bad Girls Don’t Die (Alender), Coraline (Gaiman), Cryer’s Cross (McMann), anything by Edgar Allan Poe, Being Dead (Vande Velde)
- Overall: 3/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 2/5
- Writing: 3/5
- Appeal to teens: 2/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: none
- Violence: high; murders and really creepy ghosts/artwork
- Drugs/Alcohol: none