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We Hear the Dead

We Hear the Dead

4.2 5
by Dianne Salerni

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"Readers will be swept along with Maggie and Kate as they bamboozle an entire nation, and will feel for Maggie as she debates whether or not to leave the profession...Dianne K. Salerni has written a brilliant debut novel."

I began the deception when I was too young to know right from wrong. Only with the passing of time


"Readers will be swept along with Maggie and Kate as they bamboozle an entire nation, and will feel for Maggie as she debates whether or not to leave the profession...Dianne K. Salerni has written a brilliant debut novel."

I began the deception when I was too young to know right from wrong. Only with the passing of time did I come to understand the consequences of my actions.

I do not believe that I have ever intentionally deceived anyone. Maggie has a different understanding of the events that have happened. To her the spirits were always a game. For me they were my life's calling. I have no regrets.

It starts as a harmless prank...then one lie quickly grows into another. Soon Kate and Maggie Fox are swept into a dizzying flurry of national attention for their abilities to communicate with the dead. But living a lie is sometimes too much to handle, even if you have the best intentions. Based on a true story, We Hear the Dead reveals how secrets and lies can sometimes lead you to what's real and what's right. And how sometimes talking with the dead is easier than talking with the people around you.

What Readers Are Saying:

"Masterfully written...a first-class novel."

"A crafty, enchanting, mesmerizing read."

"Adventure, romance, heartbreak, a bit of history, and a story that will touch you."

"Dianne Salerni is masterful."

"An enjoyable ride...and one well worth taking."

"A great read that had me turning pages long after I should have gone to bed."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1848, the Fox sisters--Maggie, 14, and Kate, 11--decide to play a prank: an accident of physiology allows both girls to make loud cracking noises with the joints in their legs and feet, and thereby convince the family that a spirit is haunting their house. For Maggie, it's the beginning of a lifelong deception; for Kate, it's an unlocking of her true spiritual gifts. Under the direction of their older sister, Leah, the girls move from amazing their rural neighbors to holding séances in upscale Rochester, where the scrutiny and stratagems become much more intense. The girls' longing for attention and Leah's greed motivate the charade, rapidly deforming their lives. First-time novelist Salerni tells the story primarily in Maggie's voice (with some chapters narrated by Kate) and sticks closely to facts upon which the story is based, to a degree that some readers may find exhaustive and which results in loosely connected events and dangling threads. But those fascinated by Spiritualism should welcome how the sisters' opposing perspectives result in a representation of reality that does not completely discount the possibility of supernatural agency. Ages 12–up. (May)
From the Publisher
""The research is excellent, and the author displays a facility for fluid prose even as she writes in a modified archaic style that lends credence to the first-person conceit of the novel. Although the book's length may discourage some readers, those caught in the story will enjoy it. A promising debut."" - Kirkus

""Inherently fascinating"" - Booklist

""Maggie is a bright, interesting, and down to earth character who believes that she is offering a service by giving comfort to grieving families... Those who like historical fiction will find this an entertaining romance."" - VOYA

VOYA - Sarah Flowers
Salerni's first novel is based on the life of nineteenth-century spiritualist Maggie Fox. The first half of the novel tells the story of teenaged Maggie and her younger sister, Kate, who convince others that the rapping noises heard in their presence are messages from the dead. It starts out as a prank but, ultimately, in the hands of their older sister, Leah, becomes a career. The second half of the book details the love affair between Maggie and Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane. Kane disapproves of the spiritualism business and tries to convince Maggie to give it up. Maggie is torn between her love for Kane and her need to earn a living (not to mention her enjoyment of all the trappings of her chosen career). Matters are further complicated by Kane's unwillingness or inability to defy his wealthy Philadelphia family by openly courting the uneducated and notorious Maggie. Meanwhile, Kate is apparently becoming more and more convinced that the messages from the dead are real. Salerni occasionally tantalizes the reader with chapters from Kate's perspective, but this is basically Maggie's story, and Maggie is a bright, interesting, and down-to-earth character who believes that she is offering a service by giving comfort to grieving families. Teens may be disappointed that the book, despite the title, isn't spookier, but those who like historical fiction will find this an entertaining romance. Reviewer: Sarah Flowers
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Maggie and Kate Fox were real celebrities in the mid-1800s, sisters said to have an ability to communicate with the dead. Salerni brings the séance culture vividly to life without ever pretending that the mediums believed in their own "ghost rapping." Maggie, the older sister, reveals in the opening pages that her spiritualism is deception and humbug and prank. An occasional chapter is written by Kate, who believes that she can truly communicate with the dead, even if the actual rapping comes from trickery. Egged on by an older sister, the girls find they enjoy the perks of their fame, and Maggie in particular is pleased to reassure grieving patrons that their loved ones are at peace. Despite the seeming focus on the supernatural, the novel offers much historical context and several richly developed subplots, most notably the romance between Maggie Fox and Elisha Kane. Kane was a renowned explorer, and his funeral was second in size only to that of Abraham Lincoln's. The author's word choices ("spectacles," "peevishly," "devilment," "bedchamber") draw readers into the past. She paints vivid scenes of life in upstate New York during a time when exposed ankles were shocking and the Underground Railroad offered a dangerous route to freedom for both conductors and slaves. Historical fiction at its best.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
Kirkus Reviews
This unusual historical romance deals with a compelling subject: the true story of the infamous Fox sisters, who inadvertently began the spiritualist movement in 1848. Despite her book's length, Salerni easily holds reader interest as she describes, usually from Maggie's point of view, the inner workings of the Fox sisters' deception. As Maggie confessed in 1888, they produced loud rapping "spirit" sounds primarily through cracking their ankle and toe joints. The author focuses her story first on Maggie's conflicted feelings about her fraud, then on her romance with the famous Arctic explorer Elisha Kane, while depicting societal norms of the time through the difficulties of their unequal relationship. Ironically, history remembers Maggie Fox, while Kane, highly celebrated in his day, has been forgotten. The research is excellent, and the author displays a facility for fluid prose even as she writes in a modified archaic style that lends credence to the first-person conceit of the novel. Although the book's length may discourage some readers, those caught in the story will enjoy it. A promising debut. (Historical fiction. YA)

Product Details

Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)
1070L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One:

I was not happy about leaving the cheerful and bustling city of Rochester for the dreary, vacant countryside of Wayne County. I had just turned fourteen, and I thought that being banished to "frontiersland" would be the end of my life.
To make matters worse, the rooms that my family rented in Rochester had become unavailable because the owner, Mr. Isaac Post, had sold the house. It was necessary to move out of our lodg­ings before the new home was built, so my father rented a small house within the town limits of Hydesville.

Hydesville wasn't much of a town, as far as I was concerned, and ours wasn't much of a house. Its best feature was a south-facing parlor with several windows to brighten the room. The kitchen, however, was dark and dreary. The house's single bedroom received sunlight only in the morning. There was a buttery off the kitchen, and a cobwebbed attic over the back half of the house. The abso­lutely most horrible part of the house was the cellar.

Kate and I explored it while Father and David moved furniture above us. Foul water squelched around our shoes, bubbling up from the damp earth floor. The wood beams supporting earthen walls leaned inward at an alarming angle, giving the unsettling impression of imminent collapse.

"It smells like an open grave," I stated in disgust.

"To be sure," answered Kate, "and there lies the corpse." She pointed at the darkest corner of the cellar, where I could dimly make out a mound of loose earth piled carelessly against a crooked wall.

"What are you girls doing down there?"

The voice made us jump. We turned and saw my father leaning in through the doorway, peering at us in the dim light.

I opened my mouth, ready to burst out with fresh complaints about moving into a house built over a pauper's cemetery. But Kate took my hand firmly and spoke before me. "We were just curious, Father." She led me toward the stairs, and I followed silently, without voicing my opinion.

Hydesville was less a town than a cluster of houses and farms that had grown up around a tavern, which later closed down and left the townsfolk wondering why they had come. My mother, I know, was relieved to see the boarded doors on the old Hyde's Tavern. She had forgiven her husband for his years of drunkenness but had never quite forgotten.

We had lived in the Hydesville house less than two weeks when a letter from my sister Leah arrived, telling us to expect her daughter to arrive by canal boat within a few days. Lizzie was coming "to lend us a hand." Only Leah could imagine that feeding and housing another person under our present circumstances would be a help. Especially Lizzie, a great big horse of a girl with the brains of a cow and the liveliness of a fencepost.

Leah obviously needed to be rid of Lizzie for her own purposes. Perhaps she wanted to put a boarder in the girl's room to make extra money. Leah held piano lessons and rented rooms but always seemed to be in an endless state of acquiring funds. Whenever she could persuade my parents to feed, clothe, and shelter her daughter, she did so.

Anticipating Lizzie's arrival did not improve my outlook on the house, Hydesville, or the dismal end of my former life. Kate and I moaned and threw fits, but Lizzie was already on her way, and our mother actually looked forward to her arrival. Honestly, I cannot tell why, unless it was simply because she was the eldest grandchild and the daughter of her precious Leah. Lizzie did not resemble my sister, who was pretty and bold and the center of any gathering of people. I never met Mr. Bowman Fish, who ran off to marry a rich widow when Lizzie was only a baby, but I imagine that he must have resembled his own name and passed those features on to his daughter.

"Lizzie Fish is a stinky old cod," Kate chanted out of the hearing of our parents.

"Face like a path where the oxen trod," I rejoined, turning the jump rope, which we had tied to a tree.

"Screwed up little eyes and pale, thin hair-"

"For a penny and a half I would push her down the stair."

"How many steps did Lizzie fall down?"


My seventeen-year-old niece, Lizzie, was the least important person in this entire story-and also the most important. She was the reason for everything that was to come: the rapping, the lecture halls, the spirit circles, and the messages from the dead.

Kate and I did not like Lizzie. We did not look forward to her arrival, and we resented sharing our bed with her.

Everything that happened-everything-was originally just a plan to scare Lizzie and make her go home.

Meet the Author

DIANNE K. SALERNI is an elementary school teacher, author, and online book reviewer. She has previously published educational materials for teachers, as well as short stories. We Hear the Dead is her first full-length novel. With her husband and her two daughters, Salerni lives in Pennsylvania, where she is at work on her novel.

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We Hear the Dead 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
pagese More than 1 year ago
I liked this book for the most part. I feel the description is a little misleading though. I got the impression it has more to do with the actual spiritualism movement and the Fox sister's involvement. It's there, but it feels more like the background story. The story is more personal than that. It's told from both Maggie's and Kate's point of view. But, the story seems to focus more on Maggie. I think she had issues deceiving people from the very beginning. The book is more about her inner struggle with that. She liked the fame in brought her. Especially when it introduced her to Elisha Kent. That's when the story becomes more of a romance. Maggie has to choose between her family and spiritualism and her new found feelings for him. I have to say I didn't like Elisha much. I don't know if he truly cared for Maggie. It seemed like he was more interested in molding her to be what he thought she should be. In the end, I felt sorry for Maggie and all she had to endure at the hands of Elisha and his family. The story was interesting and well written. I just wanted more of the spiritualism and seances. I thought it was interesting that Maggie played along while in the end I think Kate really truly believed she was being guided by the dead.
Mother-Daughter-Book-Club More than 1 year ago
Maggie Fox and her sister, Kate, are just playing around when they pretend they can communicate with the dead. But soon their brother is digging up the basement and finding what may be a body, and people everywhere are coming to them seeking to communicate with their loved ones who have passed on. They can't tell the truth without getting into a lot of trouble, but they didn't realize just how much their fame would spread. When Maggie falls in love with well-known explorer Elisha Kent Kane, she wants to give it all up to be with him. But she finds she can't just walk away when her family depends on her so much. Caught between the life she has and the life she wants, Maggie struggles to find a solution that will let her be true to herself without hurting those she loves. Based on the true story of the Fox sisters and the beginning of the Spiritualist movement in the mid 1850s, We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni is a fascinating look at how something can start out as a lark and then spiral out of control. The Fox sisters' story is the 1800s version of a video going viral and taking on a life of its own. This is great historical fiction, but mother-daughter book clubs can add a modern touch to their conversations as well. Issues to discuss include differences in technology and communications between then and now, and how that would affect someone making claims similar to those of the Fox sisters today. Other topics include deceiving the outside world to meet the expectations of those in your family, social constraints on women of the times, expectations of social classes, and more. Salerni includes a list at the back of the book for further reading, and it could be fun for members of a group to find out more about the real life Maggie Fox and Elisha Kent Kane to present at a meeting. As I didn't know about Maggie before reading We Hear the Dead, I didn't know how her story would turn out. Salerni does a great job of weaving fictional details into the framework of actual events to keep the pace moving and keep the reader interested until the very end. We Hear the Dead would be a great book for groups with girls aged 14 and older.
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