Waiting for the Queen
Eugenie de la Roque is fifteen when she and her parents leave France, the revolutionaries having burned their grand maison and killed some of their servants. With several other French aristocrats, Eugenie’s family tries to create a new Versailles in the American wilderness, believing that Marie Antoinette will soon join them. Spoiled Eugenie throws a tantrum when she sees the rustic log houses where they will live. She is offended when a servant girl dares to speak to her. Thirteen-year-old Hannah Kimbrell is one of the Americans hired to work for the French. Hannah is assigned to two families, including the de la Roques. She cooks and cleans and learns some French, but, as a Quaker, will not bow down to the French nobility.
The story covers the end of 1793 and the beginning of 1794, a cold and difficult winter. The first-person narrative alternates between Eugenie and Hannah; in the beginning their voices couldn’t be more different, but by the end, one sees how close they have become, as friends and as people. Eugenie’s transformation from arrogant and helpless noble to selfless and caring human being is the heart of the story. Hannah grows as well, understanding that her father’s strict Quaker ways do not always accomplish good. Although the reader understands the thoughts, actions and beliefs of the two girls, the motivations of other characters are sometimes confusing. The resolution at the end of the story had elements that were unclear to me. Still, I enjoyed this story, which is based on the French nobles and American workers who built Azilum in northeastern Pennsylvania. Higgins’ descriptive writing is delicious: “Cold penetrates wool and velvet and settles upon my shoulders like stones.” A thoughtful coming-of-age story.