The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead

Written by Paul Elwork
Review by Nanette Donohue

Emily and Michael, the thirteen-year-old Stewart twins, are wealthy and bored. Their widowed mother is distant and emotionally fragile, and the summer seems endless, with only the neighborhood children and regular visits from their tutor to break up the monotony. One afternoon, Emily discovers that she can make a sound with her ankle that sounds like a knock, and the twins devise a plan: they’ll invite one of the neighbor children over for a “spirit knocking” session with a distant ancestor who died at the age of sixteen. The rumors that Emily can communicate with the dead soon spread throughout the neighborhood, and the twins soon find their parlor game turning into something far more serious than they could have expected.

The twins’ coming-of-age is combined with the national sense of grief following World War I. While their original intent was to play a trick on one of their peers, their “spirit knocking” sessions are akin to therapy for some of the more troubled adults in their midst, many of whom lost children and spouses to the devastation of the Great War. The people who believe in the spirit knockings desperately want to believe, each for his or her own personal reason. Interspersed throughout the story are flashbacks to the tragic youth of the twins’ mother, who was caught in the midst of a tragic love triangle, as well as flashbacks to earlier ancestors who were involved in similar romantic tragedies. Elwork’s debut is dark, meditative, and thought-provoking, and will remain with readers long after the book is finished.