How It Happened in Peach Hill

How It Happened in Peach Hill

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by Marthe Jocelyn

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The year is 1924, the heyday of the revived Spiritualist movement. Fourteen-year-old Annie and her mother are successful purveyors of psychic chicanery; they move from town to town, cashing in on the fad for clairvoyant guidance.

When they arrive in Peach Hill, Annie is once again compelled into her part of the act: she has to pretend that she’s the… See more details below


The year is 1924, the heyday of the revived Spiritualist movement. Fourteen-year-old Annie and her mother are successful purveyors of psychic chicanery; they move from town to town, cashing in on the fad for clairvoyant guidance.

When they arrive in Peach Hill, Annie is once again compelled into her part of the act: she has to pretend that she’s the village idiot in order to more easily listen in on gossip that her mother can put to use as a fake seer. But something happens in Peach Hill. Annie’s tired of missing school, drooling, and keeping her eyes crossed. This is not the way to attract the kind of male attention she wants. She decides to drop the guise, but no sooner than she does, her mother comes up with a new scam. Now she’s a faith healer and Annie’s troubles have just begun.

This is Marthe Jocelyn at the height of her powers as a novelist. How it Happened in Peach Hill is by turns funny, suspenseful, and heartbreaking as it explores the world of those who peddle hope and comfort for profit.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Jocelyn (Mable Riley) delivers a lively historical yarn set in New York State during Prohibition and the waning years of the spiritualist movement. Young Annie serves as the clever and feisty assistant to her mother, a clairvoyant and spiritual adviser, as they move from town to town to escape exposure and the law. When they arrive in Peach Hill, N.Y., however, the ruse begins to unravel. Annie, now 15, must pretend to be "dimwitted" and to eavesdrop on the townsfolk for the sake of the act. The tension becomes palpable when Annie develops other plans for herself that include a boy named Sammy Sloane, honesty and a normal life (her clever plot to escape idiocy is inspired). Yet the heroine finds it difficult to extricate herself from her mother's tantalizing sphere of influence. Annie makes a convincing heroine, and a set of unique and sympathetic characters swirl around her, including a troubled but clear-thinking daughter of a preacher and a seemingly severe but insightful truant officer. Others, such as Peg the housekeeper and Sammy, serve the story line but seem too naïve to be fully credible. Nonetheless, the gripping intrigue and pacing of the story will engage young readers as they root for Annie to break free and become her own person. Ages 9-12. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Narcissistic, selfish mothers frequently pop up in literature, as we all know. Here is another one. This mother makes her living as a scam artist, and drags her daughter Annie into the act. They have to move frequently, when they are exposed as fake seers. Annie's mother is beautiful and she attracts men easily. Annie has been pretending to be a disturbed, handicapped child: she falls down, she drools, and she listens to gossip around town to give her mother information to use in her act. After they move to Peach Hill, Annie decides to be miraculously cured because she is interested in a boy and she is tired of being a freak. This cure is fine for business—it is impressive, after all—but it means Annie will have to go to school now because the truant officer is on her case. The plot gets complicated; other characters are developed. All the while Annie starts to put distance between her mother and herself, no longer willing to be swallowed up in her mother's plans. The plot is inventive and the dialog is witty and fast. Annie is so smart, and she also has learned to be devious from living with her mother. When she matches wits with her mother, it's very satisfying. And so is the ending. This unusual story is quite entertaining and well written.
Kirkus Reviews
In 1924, Annie and her mother, an elegant but fraudulent clairvoyant, move among upstate New York towns, profiting tidily by telling seekers what they want to hear. Annie assists by eavesdropping in town and reporting crucial details about clients to Mama. Newly ensconced in Peach Hill, Mama has Annie assume life as an "idiot," with roving eye and drooling mouth, the better to avoid detection. Clever Annie chafes under this odious burden, and when truant officer Mrs. Newman deposits her in first grade, she orchestrates a "cure" for herself, one-upping the furious Mama. Jocelyn seamlessly weds Annie's lively narration with plenty of well-constructed dialogue, as Annie struggles between her practiced role as shill and newly beckoning experiences: tenth grade, friendships and magnetic classmate Sammy. Even secondary characters emerge whole, with housegirl Peg mothering Annie far more lovingly than Mama, suspicious Mrs. Newman surreptitiously proffering aid and ostensibly wealthy Mr. Poole meeting his match in lovely, scheming "Madame Caterina." The strife of Helen, abused daughter of a more dangerous charlatan, contrasts soberingly with Annie's troubles. Colorful and engrossing. (Fiction. 11-15)
From the Publisher
“Inventiveness, humour and a sharp understanding of human nature underlie every sparkling word of this story…. Highly recommended.” 
The Toronto Star, Deirdre Baker

“The blend of coming-of-age, adventure, and intrigue, framed by details of small-town life and a classic con, will appeal to fans of spunky female characters and readers of historical fiction alike.”
Quill & Quire

"...a rollicking coming-of-age story...Readers will not soon forget this unconventional mother-and-daughter team." — School Library Journal, Starred review

"...the gripping intrigue and pacing of the story will engage young readers as they root for Annie to break free and become her own person." — Publisher's Weekly

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
File size:
5 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Marthe Jocelyn is an award-winning author and illustrator who worked for many years as a toy designer before turning her hand to writing. Her picture book, Hannah’s Collections, was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration. Her novel, Mable Riley, won the first TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. She has created five picture books, written six novels, one work of nonfiction for older readers, and edited one collection of short stories.

Read an Excerpt


Put salt on the doorstep of a new house and no evil can enter. Mama taught me to lie.

Some would say that Mama went to jail in Carling, New York, because of lies, but we had other ideas.

We knew that the truth came in different varieties and that most people had a favorite. Same thing with untruth. Anyone could decide what to call a lie, so sometimes there'd be a misunderstanding.

Mama made claims to being clairvoyant: able to "see clearly" what was unseen by everyone else. She had what she called a sensitive way with the spirit world. I was her assistant. We offered services that only we could perform. Mama cultivated her talents to help people seeking solace, or relief from a predicament.

When a gentleman, for instance, misplaced a gold watch and offered a reward for its recovery, Mama's psychic ability was almost certain to detect the missing object. Particularly when her beguiling smile and her nimble fingers had caused the misplacement to begin with, and I had selected the discovery site. When the gentleman reclaimed his property, we were handsomely paid, and everyone was content.

Until an incident of faulty timing led to a watch being observed in our possession.

That day in Carling, I was fifteen. I watched Mama being dragged away by the police with her stockings torn and her feet scrabbling to touch the ground. I saw her hat flung to the pavement, with the ostrich feather snapped under a boot. I wanted to howl and kick somebody. That sickening scene played over and over in front of my eyes, like at the moving pictures with the pianist gone home.

And while Mama languished for two days and nights in the stone cellar of that Carling police station behind a wall of iron mesh, I was confined to the sheriff's home. The sheriff's wife was a more formidable jailer than any of the young men with pistols who were watching over Mama.

"We've had villains in here before, Miss Annie Grey." She jabbed her finger at me. "But never one so young, nor so unrepentant!"

Well, what was I supposed to be repenting for? We didn't want the watch, we wanted the money for its recovery, and we never got that, so how could we repent?

"You sit right there and read aloud from the Good Book. Your mother has some nerve, with her claims to see into the future. No one but the good Lord can say what awaits us! I know what awaits you, young lady. You will read, without moving, from the moment you finish your breakfast until I put your supper on the table tonight. . . ."

At first I didn't think it was much of a punishment. There are some great moments of drama in the Bible, storms and miracles, plenty of evil doings and heroic characters.

" 'And God divided the Light from Darkness!' " I thundered, waving my fist in the air, " 'and God called the light Day and He called the dark Night. . . .' "

But the sheriff's wife didn't want my interpretation. She wanted my piety and she wanted it plain.

"Don't you get fanciful and don't you rest."

I had no wish to repeat that experience as long as I lived. I chose to have an epileptic seizure at the same moment that Mama agreed to marry her guard, and so between us we negotiated our freedom.

Luckily, Mama prided herself on always being prepared for trouble. Our savings were neatly arranged in the false bottom of our trunk and hadn't been disturbed by the rude officers who had searched our belongings. We left town the very hour Mama was released, and we swore not to repeat our errors. Mama said soon we would have enough money to buy a home of our own. She said we could settle down, just as I'd been begging for, so long as I could remember.

We arrived in Hawley feeling breathless, as if we'd run all the way from Carling in our fine leather Hi-Cuts, instead of sitting in a first-class compartment with a Thermos of chamomile tea and a two-pound box of coconut macaroons. We stayed in Hawley just long enough to come up with a new twist to our old game.

"One of our strengths is your sweet and innocent face," said Mama. "We'll take it one step further and turn you into a dim-witted angel. You will be clucked over and then ignored by heartless women who think only of themselves. This will put you in an excellent position for eavesdropping."

Mama was sharp; no mistake about that. She was a fake as far as hearing from the dead, or even seeing the outcome of a situation ahead of time, but she had a sensitive way about her, when required professionally. She was a master at drawing out secrets. With a little background information, she easily appeared to see straight into the hearts of forlorn and desperate seekers--usually women--who spent heaps of money to hear the advice of a stranger. And Mama was so pretty, people tended to trust her without thinking about it.

So, in Hawley, I sat for hours holding Mama's mirror with the tortoiseshell handle. I perfected the ability to cross one eye while my mouth stayed open. I breathed out with a faint wheeze so that my lips dried up or even crusted. Once in a while I'd add a twitch.

If anyone had looked through the window, they would have heard Mama scolding me, "Get rid of that smart glint in your eyes. And let your lips gape!"

"It makes me thirsty, having my tongue lolling out."

"Try honking through your nose when you laugh. That will give your mouth a rest."

I experimented on the streets of Hawley. People would take a first look at me and shiver with disgust. They'd look again and think, Oh, the poor thing, thank the heavens she's not mine. And then they'd ignore me, just as Mama had predicted, out of politeness, maybe, or embarrassment.

That was the moment I could go to work.

While in disguise I planned to gather gossip and bring it home to Mama. She would put it to use in little ways, giving it back to the very same people, only shaped differently and in exchange for money. Lots of money, over time.

We moved on to Peach Hill toward the end of summer, to start fresh. The days were still hot and I wished we could go closer to the shores of the Finger Lakes, but Mama said resort towns attracted more sophisticated people. We were better off in Nowhere, New York.

From the Hardcover edition.

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