The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead

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Overview

The innocence of childhood,
the unknown of adulthood,
and the search for forgiveness . . .

Emily Stewart is the girl who claims to stand between the living and the dead. During the quiet summer of 1925, she and her brother, Michael, are thirteen-year-old twins-privileged, precocious, wandering aimlessly around their family's estate. One day, Emily discovers that she can secretly crack her ankle in such a way ...

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The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead

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Overview

The innocence of childhood,
the unknown of adulthood,
and the search for forgiveness . . .

Emily Stewart is the girl who claims to stand between the living and the dead. During the quiet summer of 1925, she and her brother, Michael, are thirteen-year-old twins-privileged, precocious, wandering aimlessly around their family's estate. One day, Emily discovers that she can secretly crack her ankle in such a way that a sound appears to burst through the stillness of midair. Emily and Michael gather the neighborhood children to fool them with these "spirit knockings."

Soon, however, this game of contacting the dead creeps into a world of adults still reeling from World War I. When the twins find themselves dabbling in the uncertain territory of human grief and family secrets- knock, knock-everything spins wildly out of control.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Loosely based on true events from the early 20th century, Elwork's first novel poignantly depicts the desperate need of people to believe in life after death. In 1925, at her family's suburban Philadelphia estate, 13-year-old Emily Stewart discovers she can make a loud rapping noise with her ankle. With her sly twin brother, Michael, Emily entertains gullible schoolmates with "knockings" that spirits purportedly make to answer questions about the afterlife. When adults who have suffered the loss of loved ones start consulting her as a spirit medium, her efforts to give them consolation begin to seem increasingly like cruel deceptions. Interweaving Emily's experiences with those of several generations of family and friends devastated by tragic loss, Elwork paints an unforgettable portrait of individuals traumatized by death and unhinged by grief. The subtle and moving portrayal of people in the grip of powerful emotions that overwhelm rational thinking will haunt readers long after they put the book down. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In the summer of 1925, 13-year-old Emily Stewart discovers a bizarre physical quirk that allows her to create an otherworldly knocking sound. As a diversion, Emily and her twin brother, Michael, use her ability to convince other kids that they can communicate with the dead. They create a cast of "ghosts" from family ancestors and local soldiers who were lost in the recent Great War. Word spreads in their Philadelphia neighborhood, and soon they are performing not just for their peers but for a circle of adult spiritualists. Real and imagined ghosts catch up with the twins, as they are overwhelmed by the sorrows and secrets of their neighbors. VERDICT Elwork's debut incorporates elements of World War I and early 20th-century spiritualism that will appeal to history enthusiasts, but it is his somber tone and emotional evocation of loss and heartbreak that will win over readers of literary fiction.—Catherine Lantz, Morton Coll. Lib., Cicero, IL
Kirkus Reviews

A debut novel about 13-year-old twins, Emily and Michael, who live on a large estate that borders the Delaware River.

The year is 1925 and the twins' father, a wealthy doctor who was something of a hero, is dead. He died in the service of his country while in France, trying to save the lives of American troops injured in battle during the war. The two children thrive on stories of their father, doled out by their mother, Naomi, and the family's only live-in help, Mary. The twins want for nothing but perhaps a little excitement, which they find in an odd and disturbing way: Emily discovers a talent she cannot explain. She can make an odd sound using her ankle bones. Soon, she and Michael employ her talent; they pretend that Emily can talk to the spirit of one of their ancestors. Regina, who died mysteriously from drowning in the Delaware while still a teenager, becomes the focus of the twins' séances, to which they invite impressionable young friends. Their sessions soon grow increasingly elaborate and before they know it, they are performing for adults, a feat Michael savors, but Emily finds more and more uncomfortable with each lie she tells. In the meantime, Emily has been piecing together her own family's history, reaching back to the days when her forbears moved from a plantation in Virginia to their present home, and discovering family secrets planted along the way. While her mother reacquaints herself with an old friend, Emily digs into the past and finds a family she never knew existed. Meanwhile, the ghost sessions become more serious and disturbing, leaving Emily with the uncomfortable impression that she and Michael have been opening doors that should have remained closed.

An intricate yet beautifully told story that is less about ghosts and more about secrets and how destructive they can be.

Booklist
"Elegantly written...a thought-provoking novel."
Scott Smith
"A beautifully written coming-of-age story."
Daniel Wallace
“A mystery story about the greatest mystery there is.”
Suzanne Bern
“A haunting Gothic fable full of the eerie magic of childhood…Strangely beautiful, always surprising…I was entranced.”
Jennifer McMahon
“Suspenseful, haunting, elegantly written. These darkly imaginative children will give you goose bumps and make your heart ache.”
M. J. Rose
“That rare book that offers the right combination of intense and compelling characters, a fascinating plot, and enough suspense to keep you turning pages.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399157172
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/31/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Elwork

Paul Elwork graduated from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and from Arcadia University with a master’s degree in English. His stories have appeared in many literary journals.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

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(1)

4 Star

(2)

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 2, 2013

    I believe most of the reviewers thought they were buying a genr

    I believe most of the reviewers thought they were buying a genre horror novel about sparkly vampires who engage in car chases. Look elsewhere for that. This is a literary novel, quite a good one. It is about what happens when children play with adult grief and guilt and set a tragedy in motion. It's about how the dead haunt us, even if there are no ghosts. It's about the end of innocence. This is a beautifully written book for intelligent adults.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    A beautiful, haunting tale

    This book is extremely well written. The two main characters, a brother and sister, are strange, independent creatures who make an odd discovery one summer day that changes their lives forever. I loved everything about this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2012

    So-so

    I'm about halfway through and have moved on to other books. I'll get back to it, but it (so far) hasn't been as compelling as I expected from the title. Am enjoying "Swamplandia!" much more.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 17, 2011

    Lost Interest

    This book sucked! I was very bored with it and it just was not well written.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 26, 2011

    Interesting read

    I enjoyed the story. Was very low key, but had turns and twists.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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