This review contains no spoilers.
It started out as a harmless prank. But soon enough, spiritualism was the fastest growing movement of the nineteenth century, and Maggie Fox was trapped in a life of deceit.
I began the deception when I was too young to know right from wrong. No one suspected us of any trick, because we were such young children. We were led on by my sister purposely and by my mother unintentionally. Only with the passing of time did I come to understand the consequences of my actions. As Doctor wrote to me: “Weary, weary is the life by cold deceit oppressed.”
Kate:My sister has used the word “deception.” I object to her use of that word, for I do not believe that I have ever intentionally deceived anyone. Maggie has a different understanding of all the events that have happened since that night in Hydesville forty years ago. To her the spirits were always a game. For my sister Leah, they were a means to an end. For my mother, a miracle. And for me, they were my life’s calling. I have no regrets.
We Hear the Dead is the story of Fox Sisters – Leah, Maggie, and Kate – the three girls credited with starting Spiritualism (the thought that you can communicate with the dead). Although history remembers that they were exposed as frauds – they cracked their fingers and toes and tied lead balls to their skirts to make ghostly ‘answers’ – the youngest sister, Kate, always maintained that they were indeed real, even after her sister confessed they were frauds. Spiritualism has become less popular over the years, but it is still something that many people believe in.
What makes We Hear the Dead such an interesting account of the sisters is that it is presented so that it doesn’t matter what you believe. Maggie (the middle sister and the one to eventually confess to their lies) serves as the narrator which leaves it up to the reader to decide if Kate really did fake it or not (of the three, Kate was most convinced of their truth). It was also very well researched and it showed. It fit almost perfectly into how I imagine the time period to be and there was nothing that was blazingly unrealistic.
I had a lot of fun while I was reading this book and I came away with a much deeper understanding of Spiritualism and how it affects the history of America. Lots of influential people, including presidents, sought out spiritualists for both communicating with lost loved ones and asking advice.
I certainly could get into the characters, from the ones I loved to the ones I hated, and there was just the right amount of them to keep the story flowing without getting lost. The book also follows the love story of Maggie Fox and Elisha Kane, once the most beloved Arctic explorer in the country. Although it was not a well-known story, even at the time when they were both in the spotlight for very different reasons, personal letters have been discovered that prove its existence. I won’t spoil any more about how the love story turns out (I will say there is no love triangle!), but I will confess that it was very sweet and a love story that I actually enjoyed.
Overall I think all fans of historical fiction will like this book, as well as anyone who likes a good (but not too scary!) ghost story. It is definitely a solid YA book, and while the reading level isn’t too high, I took my time while working through it because it almost felt a little dense (which was a good thing, because it covers a very long span of time!).