Not only is Maud an orphan, not only is she stuck in the orphanage that she hates, but to top it all off, she has – yet again, and probably not for the last time – been locked into the orphanage’s outhouse to punish her mischief-making. Little does she know that this time Fate is going to intervene. Sisters looking for an orphan to adopt take a liking to her through the wall of the outhouse, and, to her own surprise and the shock of the orphanage caretaker, she is adopted and whisked away to a fancy mansion.
The sisters are not entirely benign. They want Maud not to adore and raise as their own, but rather to play a part in their fake seances. The mother of a drowned girl is desperate to contact her dead daughter, and the sisters believe that Maud will make a perfect stand in. Maud is not entirely sure of the idea, but she is determined to prove herself and not be sent back to the orphanage.
Laura Amy Schlitz – who won the Newbery Award this year for her Sweet Masters! Good Ladies! – stated that she consciously wanted to create a melodrama in the traditional sense – a book filled with high emotion and strange coincidences. A Drowned Maiden’s Hair certainly lives up to both. Poor Maud is pulled one way and another, wrestling with her newly formed conscience while at the same time trying desperately to please the women who have adopted her. With just a touch of the supernatural, the story is finely nuanced, and an engaging read.