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Thursday, February 05, 2015

We Hear the Dead Tells Fascinating Story of Spiritualism's Founding Mothers

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Starting a new religion was never part of the plan.  The Fox girls simply wanted to have a bit of fun with their slow-witted niece.  Popping their joints made sounds mysterious enough to seem like otherworldly communications—if Lizzie was convinced they were talking to the dead, well, that just made the hoax all the more hilarious.  By the time superstitious folks from all over New York start coming to the girls in droves, begging for help in speaking with their departed loved ones, it's too late to admit the whole thing was a joke.  Especially for 11-year-old Kate, who feels she has finally found her true calling in life.  

Maggie Fox has never known when to quit.  The 14-year-old has always pushed her practical jokes to the very limit.  This is no exception.  Her older sister, Leah, is only too happy to go along with the act.  The enterprise is making her money and attracting all the right kind of attention.  Maggie doesn't mind living a lie—after all, what's the harm in giving a little comfort to the grieving?  Especially when it's so very profitable!  It's only later, when she meets a dashing Arctic explorer, that Maggie begins to wonder if the all-consuming deception is really worth it.  Dr. Elisha Kane loves her, but refuses to accept Spiritualism, or marry anyone who espouses such silly notions.  Conflicted between her feelings for Elisha and her desire to maintain her fame and fortune, Maggie isn't sure what to do.  Renounce Spiritualism?  Or sacrifice a chance at real happiness for a childish prank gone way too far?

Based on the true story of Spiritualism's founding mothers, We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni tells a compelling tale.  Maggie, who narrates most of the novel, is a bright, entertaining mouthpiece, likable despite her dishonesty.  Salerni paints such a convincing portrait of the attitudes and superstitions that swelled in 19th Century upstate New York that it's (almost) easy to understand how the Fox girls bamboozled so many people with their parlor tricks.  Although this YA novel feels more like an adult historical, it's still a fascinating tale.  Despite a little too much detail in places, I found We Hear the Dead to be interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking.  If you enjoy historical fiction, definitely give this one a go.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Sounds very interesting. I might have to try it.

    1. It was really interesting, especially considering that Mormonism started in the same part of the country in roughly the same time period. The book's well-written, too -- a good read all around.

  2. I bought this book 3 years ago and it's still sitting waiting for me! I must read it! But I have a stack of library books first . . . the story of my reading life. :-)


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