It’s 1932, the Depression. Things are evening out among people everywhere. Tennyson Fontaine and her sister Hattie live in a rickety shack of a house with their mother and father and their wild dog, Jos. There is no school, only a rope swing in the living room and endless games of hide-and-seek in the woods on the banks of the Mississippi. But when their mother disappears and their father sets off to find her, the girls find themselves whisked away to Aigredoux, once one of the grandest houses in Louisiana, and now a vine-covered ruin. Under the care of their austere Aunt Henrietta, who is convinced the girls will save the family’s failing fortunes, Tennyson discovers the truth about Aigredoux, the secrets that have remained locked deep within its decaying walls. Caught in a strange web of time and history, Tennyson comes up with a plan to bring Aigreoux’s past to light. But will it bring her mother home?
Propelled by eccentric characters and mysterious events, Blume's (Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters) lush novel set during the Depression portrays a Southern family haunted by its ancestors' sins. When her mother runs away from their remote home, Innisfree, to become a writer, 11-year-old Tennyson and her younger sister are sent to Aigredoux, the dangerously dilapidated estate now owned by their father's sister, Henrietta, and her husband, Uncle Twigs, aristocratic Southerners on the brink of bankruptcy; their father, who has broken with Henrietta, plans to find their mother. Soon Tennyson begins dreaming of disturbing, real-life scenes that occurred at Aigredoux when it was a grand Louisiana plantation and also during the Civil War, and she realizes that the history that Henrietta is so proud of is entwined with slavery and complicated acts of betrayal. Inspired, Tennyson fashions stories out of the dreams and sends them to the publisher her mother most reveres; she is certain that she can infiltrate her mother's "dream" of being a writer in order to call her back. Despite the plot's strong suggestion of Southern gothic and of early Truman Capote, the writing offers its own hypnotic montage of poetic images, turning stereotypes into archetypes. The abruptness and abstraction of the ending, which leaves Tennyson with less immediate happiness than she might deserve, may disappoint the target audience; older readers are likelier to appreciate the bittersweet aftertaste. Ages 8-12.
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