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Book Brief: The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange; Scholastic ($16.99) Ages 10 and up.
A British author makes a dazzling debut in this poignant, beautifully written, enthralling novel set in England in 1919 after the devastation of the Great War. The novel opens with 12-year-old Henrietta, her parents and baby sister moving into Hope House, a rambling house near the sea in hopes of a fresh start after an unspeakable tragedy the summer before. With her mother confined to bed and her father gone abroad to work and the house in charge of the nanny and the cook, Henrietta is left on her own, to re-read her favorite books, worry about her mother and steer clear of the sinister Dr. Hardy who wants to send her mother away  to an asylum for experimental treatment.  Henrietta finds herself starting to see things - the ghost of her dead brother Robert, a campfire flickering in the woods, a strange woman living in a gypsy wagon who might be a witch from a fairy tale. This novel picks you up and draws you in from the first page, the narrative humming along in a poet's voice: "With the faint light of the kitchen behind me, the garden was a dark greeny-gray - like the bottom of the ocean. I could just make out the shipwreck of the old gazebo drifting and creaking somewhere beyond the sprawling herb garden. In front of me there floated a few half-closed white roses... I found that I was holding my breath, as if I really were underwater."  The wonderful portrait gallery of characters includes jolly cook Mrs. Berry, the mysterious woman in the woods, Dr. Hardy and his creepy wife, and plucky Henrietta, who finds a bravery she didn't know she had. Lucy Strange has woven a lovely tale here, of the power of fairy tales, of family secrets and the hard road to finding the light again after terrible loss. The author also offers a disturbing portrayal of cruel experimental treatments inflicted on the mentally ill, particularly women, and upon shell-shocked veterans of the Great War in the early 20th century.
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