Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 5/17

The Civil War is the perfect era for a ghost story, especially considering the country's fascination with spiritualism - the belief that the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, often when appearing in the then-new photographic pictures. Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown capture the fear and uncertainty of the period in both text and illustrations in Picture the Dead.

Picture the DeadAn orphan, Jennie Lovell has long lived with her twin and her two cousins at the home of her aunt and uncle.  After the three boys go off to fight in the war, Jennie is left to fend for herself against her aunt who has never much cared for her. Jennie's position in the family becomes even more precarious after the family is hit by tragedy - not only does Jennie's twin die of illness, but Will, her aunt's favorite son and Jennie's fianc√©, dies in battle and Quinn comes home wounded. With no imminent marriage to cement her place in the household, Jennie knows she could be tossed out at any time, family ties be damned. Jennie tries to make herself useful, helping to nurse the bitter Quinn,  but takes on a role more akin to a maid than a family member.

Knowing her parents had ties to the spiritualist movement, Jennie's uncle asks Jennie to put them in contact with a photographer known to be a medium. While some of the family is skeptical of the results, Jennie is sure Will is now trying to contact her - how else to explain how she found a missing locket, or a letter Will left with a comrade before he died? Encouraged by the supernatural contact, Jennie is determined to discover the truth behind Will's death, no matter how Quinn tries to stand in her way.

Brown's illustrations really add to the story, giving us glimpses into the scrapbook that Jennie keeps throughout the story. My one complaint is that the writing in the illustrations, as Jennie keeps many letters and writes captions, is only readable if you're sitting on a couch in a well-lit room. I do most of my reading on the subway, so my books are constantly bouncing around, making reading the small, cramped letters almost impossible at times.

There's lots of interesting information on the period included in the book, and it was interesting to have a Civil War story that isn't actually about the war or its causes. Of course, the realities of war are inescapable, and without giving too much away I can say that we get a glimpse at life in Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville Prison. Readers curious about this part of the story should check out The Horrors of Andersonville Prison, which I reviewed for Nonfiction Monday last week.
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