When I think of the delightful Maryrose Wood, the first book that always comes to mind is Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, which I love to recommend when I'm asked about romances appropriate for middle schoolers. So it's hard for me, in a way, to think of Maryrose as a writer of gothic MG. (Old dawg, new tricks, you know the drill.) I need to get over myself, and fast, because this new book of hers is gothic and Snickensian (Snicket+Dickens) and a fabulous read.
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling (Balzer & Bray, March 2010) centers around Miss Penelope Lumley, a recent alumna of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. She answers an ad for a governess and is thrilled to find that the job is at a beautiful estate. Sure, the residents are a little oblique as to what the actual governess duties will be, but Penelope can tolerate that. Then she meets the children.
They were raised by wolves. No, really.
Employing a little quick thinking and some animal psychology, Penelope is able to communicate with the children and later gain their trust and love. Not everyone in Ashton Place is as enamored of the children as she is, though. In fact, someone seems to be looking for a reason to send the children back into the wild. Penelope, however, is having none of that, and one should never underestimate the tenacity and smarts of a Swanburne graduate.
There is nothing about this book that isn't pure delight. Penelope's neuroses in the beginning of the book are charming (and all too familiar to me!), and she admirably works through her uncertainties by employing logic and a strong sense of what is right. The children are intelligent and kind at heart without falling into the trap of being overly precocious or smarter than the adults. Wood sets up a mystery at the end of the book because she's evil and now I have to wait for the next book, I mean, a good writer who is building a larger overreaching plot for the Incorrigible Children series. I love the timelessness of the setting and the story. I also think that with its four starred reviews, we could be looking at a Newbery contender.
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