The Girl from the Attic
The Girl from the Attic
The downstairs room looked familiar and foreign at the same time. The walls had the identical dull, red paint as the room next to her in her own kitchen, the one Dan called the creamery. Its ceiling had the same narrow boards. But in place of Carla’s washing machine and dryer, a shiny white, porcelain sink half full of water stretched along the wall. In it sat three metal pails full of milk with a layer of white stuff floating on top.
Maddy Rose, 12, is unhappy, having been forced to move to a new town, to a new, strangely shaped house, and forced to deal with her mother’s pregnancy which seems to take up all her time and energy and having a stepfather who never seems to have the patience or understanding Maddy needs. It seems like a boring future awaits her until she follows a black cat through a door in the house and finds herself one hundred years into the past where she meets a group of people who will change her life.
The journey Maddy takes in Marie Prins’ The Girl from the Attic is a fascinating one to watch and not because of the fantastical elements of time travel or because Maddy goes through insane adventures, but because she is forced, along with the reader, to face themes that are so universal they transcend time. Maddy, at first, seems like a spoiled character, but, during the course of the story, she starts to feel bad about complaining about her problems at home when they seem so petty and trivial compared to what the kids she meets in the past have to face. She learns a girl is dying from consumption, later learns that they don't have antibiotics, and that most people don't survive it. Facing these things puts her own experience in perspective.
The situation of confronting a reality so drastically different from her own and coming face to face with illness in someone her own age really propels Maddy to the role of the agent in her own story. She goes from the tantrums of a child to the problem solving skills and empathy of a girl who is ready to grow up. Facing death in the past and the increasingly scary complications of her mother’s pregnancy in the present feed the character arc of Maddy in which readers see her deal with the shame for her actions in both timelines: in the past because she thought she could fix everything and didn't listen to what her friend truly needed; and in the present because she wasn't there when her mother needed her and instead made life harder by not cooperating when her stepfather asked.
The adult themes of death, illness and fear of an “outsider” parent and a new baby will all resonate even with adults and will show child readers the importance and benefit of considering someone else’s point of view. The locations are vividly described by the author, and it is easy to be transported to the past with all its charm – and also all its danger. The Girl in the Attic is a compelling, human read with three dimensional characters and enough charm and tension to keep readers entertained.
Luiza Salazar is published author of four YA novels in her home country of Brazil and has a Masters in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia. She currently works as an animator and illustrator.