Title: We Hear the Dead
Author: Dianne K. Salerni
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
ISBN-10: 1402230923 (Sourcebooks)
ISBN-13: 978-1402230929 (Sourcebooks)
Reviewed by: Jessie
It starts as a harmless prank…But soon Kate and Maggie Fox’s ability to communicate with the dead is the talk of the town and neighbors are begging for the chance to hear the mysterious messages from beyond the grave. By the time the sisters regret what they’ve begun, it’s to late to turn back.
Deception becomes a way of life for Kate and Maggie, especially after their older sister, Leah, discovers people will pay to witness their performances. But a chance encounter with a very dashing and famous Arctic explorer turns Maggie’s world upside down. He has captured her heart and vows to give Maggie a sophisticated new life full of romance, but only if she promises to leave the family business and give up spirit rapping forever. Can Maggie leave her family behind? Or will she choose to live the rest of her life trapped in a lie?
Based on a true story, We Hear the Dead reveals the secrets of the Fox sisters’ séances and their struggle to find themselves amid their deceit.
Quick & Dirty: A combination of religion, history, and romance that is quite captivating, using a difficult time period to make the reader see right and wrong in a whole new way through absorbing events and characters.
Opening Sentence: I began the deception when I was too young to know right from wrong.
What really makes We Hear the Dead so intriguing is that it’s based on a true story. The events and characters are on the verge of unbelievable, preposterous even, but in all reality, desperate times lead to desperate measures, and the pre-Civil War era of this story is more desperate than most. Dianne K. Salerni really proves herself to be able to write a novel that depicts quite accurately so many elements from history but then builds on that to make everything seem real and applicable to an audience. The author has done her job when the reader can both relate to the characters and feel strongly for the well-being of the characters.
The novel is written heavily from Maggie’s perspective, although we do randomly get kicked over to Kate’s mind for a chapter here or there. It is understandable why the author did this, because Kate’s perspective is an important one, given firstly that she is the one who really started the stories and the rapping, and secondly that she claims that she does possess a second sight and is not always deceptive, but that she really feels and sees the things that she communicates. However, the way the book is written really shows us that it is Maggie’s story to tell. It seems that either the two should be more equal tellers of the story, or that the story should be Maggie’s alone to tell, using some other method to convey Kate’s perspective. There is just a loss of balance in the narrative, maybe it seems a slight fall to convenience for the author in what she has chosen to do.
That being said, all three of the Fox sisters, Leah, Maggie, and Kate, are highly compelling characters, and it stands to reason that the dynamic among them, also to include their mother, is almost as engaging as the romance between Maggie and Elisha Kent Kane. Anyone with sisters can relate to this dynamic, however, in order to be successful in the business they start, their personalities have to be powerful and magnetic, which indeed they are. When they combine forces, they are indeed a formidable opponent, however, as Maggie starts to regret the pull the other two have on her and tries to pull back, chaos does eventually ensue, and the relationships can never quite be mended. Seeing this story from Maggie’s perspective is so enlightening, as we can really see that she is a kind-hearted person who believes deep down that she is helping people much more than she is harming them, even though she outright knows that she has no special abilities to summon spirits. It is hard to judge her critically as she accomplishes many things through this business, and the fact that she is able to remain mostly respectable, independent as a woman, and successful at what she does is quite remarkable.
Kate is an entirely different case in point because she actually believes she can feel the other world and its pull. It seems that most of the time she is just playing the part, but sometimes she steps up to a higher cause. Since her own sisters never quite believe her, the reader is unsure whether to trust her second sight either. We never develop a relationship with her as intimate as the one we have with Maggie, so it is hard to feel as much sympathy or understanding for her. Throughout the novel, she seems to rely more on the excitement and risk-taking involved than just the money she is earning or even the people she is helping. She is very creative and although she may or may not receive intuition from the spirits, it was still her idea originally to dramatize everything with the rappings, and eventually the movement of objects, and even spirit writing. She also seems quite consumed by guilt, as much as she tries to hide it, inherent in her drinking and her inability to focus on a steady relationship.
It would seem unlikely that the story could have more to it than the Fox sisters successfully starting their own enterprise as a new religious concept, however, when Elisha Kent Kane, another dominant and influential personality enters the picture, our heroine has to start acting like an adult and making her own decisions. Interestingly enough, those telling her to stand up for herself and make her own decisions are still telling her what to do. Ultimately, Maggie’s own decisions matter little in the outcome of the story, and poetically, fate still plays the largest role. It almost becomes difficult for the reader to accept this is based on a true story at this point, because we want so much to believe that Maggie can somewhat control her own destiny despite the odds against her.
Overall, this book is worth every minute of reading. All of the elements that I personally value in a novel were there, and Salerni was successful in providing an entertaining and readable outlet for the story of the Fox sisters that contained several aspects of entertainment, not just one. I was pleased with the overall balance of the different elements of romance, risk and danger, family relationships, individual character dilemmas and societal concepts that were addressed.
I could not control the flush that came to my cheeks nor force down the smile that curved my lips when I came to his final paragraph. I glanced guiltily at Leah, who was scrutinizing me with her stern gaze, but she had no comment to make.
In my reply, I addressed his question, defending myself from the criticism that he had so ably wrapped in silky words. “While I cannot pretend to lofty deeds which will expand the sphere of the globe and the knowledge of mankind all at once, I affirm a smaller, more personal goal in my actions. It is the meek and humble who come to me, broken with grief, racked by guilt, unable to escape the icy grip of despair, and it is to these poor souls I address my efforts.” Honey laced with tonic, indeed!
FTC Advisory: Sourcebooks Fire provided me with a copy of We Hear the Dead. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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