Maud grew up in an orphanage. Now eleven, she’s thrilled to be adopted by three sisters, bought new clothing and books of her own, and brought to their house to live. She does find it a little weird that she’s brought there under cover of darkness and is told to stay in the house or walled-in garden, away from windows, and to sneak up the back stairs when visitors knock on the front door. And then she’s asked to help with the sisters’ fake seances, knowlingly defrauding people who’ve lost loved ones. It’s okay, though – she’s loved and wanted, and isn’t that enough?

Last year, Laura Amy Schlitz won the Newbery, and I was unhappy. You’d think a Canterbury Tales-esque book winning the Newbery would make me happy (just like you’d think that Neil Gaiman winning the Newberry would make me ecstatic), but no. The book was boring and had no overarching narrative. Hardly any underarching narrative, for that matter.

Now that I’ve read two of Schlitz’s three other books, I’m starting to wonder if last year was a case of “Laura Amy Schlitz is good, why haven’t we given her anything yet?” (Just like I wonder if Gaiman won this year partly because he hadn’t won for Coraline. Which is a better book than The Graveyard Book. Which also has only sketched connection between chapters; maybe Newberry committees just care less about narrative than I do.)

Because A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is good. (If I was going to continue my Newbery-committee snarking, I’d mention that it’s a better book than The Higher Power of Lucky, which won the Newbery that year, and deals with some of the same issues. But The Higher Power of Lucky throws in some extra issues which deserve discussion, and I don’t actually think A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is Newbery-worth, so I won’t snark. Except I just did. Oops.)

It’s good because it’s not oversimple; Maud’s negotiation of trust, ethics, love, and even truth are difficult. Every character is deeply and realistically flawed. Maud’s task is figuring out who can be trusted anyway.

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair