AUTHOR: Jane Nickerson
PUBLISHER: Random House Children’s
PUBLICATION DATE: March 13, 2013
GENRE: gothic horror
GIVE IT TO: MS, HS, anyone who loves dark fairy tales, Poe, Mary Shelley, or the Bronte sisters
SUMMARY: Retelling of Charles Perrault’s tale of Bluebeard–When 17-year old Sophie Petheram’s father dies, she is invited to live with her wealthy and mysterious godfather at lavish Wyndriven Abbey in Mississippi. Initially, Sophie loves living in the lap of luxury and getting to know her charismatic godfather. But things are not what they seem, and as Sophie learns more about “Bluebeard” and his previous wives, Sophie begins to feel trapped.
REVIEW: I allowed one of my 8th grade girls to read the first chapter of my ARC. When she finished the chapter, she said she was “already into it.” And she is right–the story and Sophie’s voice hooked me from the very first few pages as well.
I was consumed by this book, and I once again stayed up too late on a school night just to finish it. There are several plot threads outside the Bluebeard story–The Underground Railroad, a romance between two slaves, a maid who acts suspiciously, concern over Sophie’s brother’s activities, a potential romance with a young clergyman–all wrap into the story beautifully and kept me absolutely riveted.
Bluebeard is equally charming and terrifying, and it is easy to see how innocent Sophie gets swept up in his attentions and extravagant gifts. I loved Sophie’s growth and slow realization that her situation could be very dangerous. Bluebeard traps Sophie in a net she cannot escape, which reminds me of Howitt’s poem “The Spider and the Fly.” When I booktalk this with my students, I may introduce Strands by reading DiTerlizzi’s illustrated picture book version. Creepy black and white illustrations make that one of my favorite picture books for middle schoolers!
Set in Mississippi in the years before the Civil War, Strands is written to reflect dialogue of the time period. Sometimes, I worry about the use of period dialect in young adult books because I fear that only the best readers will understand and enjoy the story. That is not the case for Strands; the Victorian-era dialogue is easy to follow and adds to the story’s appeal.
THE BOTTOM LINE: An excellent read for anyone who enjoys gothic horror. Highly recommended!
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I definitely plan to get it! I have a fairy tales section for fiction fairy tale novels, however, due to the dark and violent nature of this story, I plan to put it in our HORROR section instead. This one will be very easy to “talk up” with my students.
READALIKES: Sweetly (Pearce); The House of Dead Maids (Dunkle)
- Overall: 5/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 5/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: mild-medium–one or two kisses, lots of innuendo, suggestive artwork, provocative clothing (for the time), one discussion of a rape that occurred years before
- Violence: high; multiple murders, dead bodies, animal cruelty, whipping of slaves; some cringe-worthy moments that are just plain creepy
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild; Bluebeard (an adult) gets drunk frequently