By: Clare B. Dunkle
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: September 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: August 6, 2010
Eleven-year-old Tabitha Aykroyd is an orphan who has been brought to Seldom House to act as nursemaid to the young master of the household, Heathcliff. Tabby arrives a few days before the young boy and has time to investigate the many hallways and dark rooms of the large house. It doesn't take Tabby long to discover that the few household servants at the estate are rather tight-lipped and more importantly, that the house is haunted.
While Tabby is naturally frightened when she realizes that a dead girl is sharing her bed at night, she's not nearly as terrified as one might expect. She tells the reader that "The dead hold no terrors for me," because a curate had once told her that the dead do no harm to the living. (I did find it a bit of a stretch that an eleven-year-old would be so nonchallant about ghosts.)
When the young master finally arrives, Tabby does her best to befriend the boy. Never told his name, Tabby does her best to extract information from her charge but is unable. She dubs Heathcliff "Himself" and that is how he is refered to throughout the rest of the story.
Tabby does her best to take care of Himself and together they go on many adventures in and around the house. The two youngsters repeatedly come upon ghosts, or signs that a ghost has been/is nearby. And yet the servants are not concerned.
The House of Dead Maids is an eerie chiller, full of mystery and suspense. While it is obvious to the reader that something is going on, just what is happening isn't revealed until near the end of this teen novel. I suspect few will figure this one out, I'll simply say it isn't your usual good ghost/bad ghost theme.
The author is a huge fan of Wuthering Heights and has based the character of Tabby on the real Tabitha Aykroyd, the housekeeper for the famous Brontë family. While little is known of her, there is mention of her telling dark tales, and the author imagines this story as the place where those tales originated. Himself is Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights fame, and again we see where his dark side developed. The author has carefully crafted a tale written in the style of the Brontë sisters works. This adds much to the story, bringing the reader easily to the Yorkshire moors of the late 1700s. While the story is beautifully written, the text might prove difficult for teens who struggle with reading. "They appeared cloddish, though I say it, who am no beauty myself; the common run were short and wide, like Mrs. Sexton, with thick limbs and sloping backs." It should also be noted that the themes of death and murder run fairly strongly through this book and while many teens will relish this, it's not a book for the squemish.
Quill says: Creepy, sometimes frightening, and very well-written, this teen chiller will appeal to young adults who love to be scared.