1920. An art gallery. Samuel Godwin is at his last exhibition, though his fans are not aware of his impending retirement. As usual, his most famous painting is on display:
I do this do her, my Wild Girl. I bring her to these fashionable galleries, I expose her to these scavengers with their ravenous eyes and their predatory chequebooks. Do they really see her? Twenty years ago she would have been as invisible as the rest of my work. Now, because she carries my name (but not her own), she is the object of speculation. Fickle fashion has decreed that my work is collectible. The Wild Girl is a desirable commodity.
But not for sale. No, never.
Flashback twenty-two years. Due to his father's unexpected death, young Samuel Godwin is forced to leave art school and London to take a job as a private art tutor in Sussex. He arrives unexpectedly late and has an unnerving encounter at the house gate:
The next instant, all my senses quickened again as I discerned a movement in the shadow: a movement that resolved itself into a cloaked figure -- slender, female -- rushing toward me. As I had not seen her approach, she must have been lurking by the wall. In the confusion of the moment, the thought flitted across my mind that this might be a ghostly presence -- the setting, the eerie light, the ground-veiling mist that made her seem to advance without feet, all contributed to my fancy. Since she appeared intent on collision, I reached out both hands to ward her off; but, unswerving, she grabbed me by one arm. I saw that she was not woman but girl -- an adolescent girl, with hair wild and loose under her hooded cloak -- and no ghost, but a living person, breathing, panting, alarmed.
Samuel Godwin and the governess, Charlotte Agnew, alternate chapters to tell the story of the Farrow family and the mysteries at Fourwinds: the missing carving of the West Wind, the mysterious circumstances of the sculptor's dismissal -- as well as the previous governess's dismissal, the possible suicide of Mrs. Farrow and younger daughter Marianne's frequent bouts of near madness.
Mmmmm... Gothic, indeed. Lots (and lots) of twists and turns (I saw at least two -- no wait, three -- coming very early on, though a third was a Big Surprise) and creepily atmospheric. Yum.
Here's the thing, though: I'm not really sure why this book is being marketed as a YA novel. The main characters are all young-ish -- Marianne, the youngest, is sixteen -- but character age alone does not a teen novel make. The narrators are a bit older, so the voice was, well, a bit older. But that's just my gut reaction. And heck, what do I know? It's up for a Costa Award in the Children's category, so it certainly seems that I'm in the minority.
Regardless of my feelings on the subject, the book IS being marketed as a YA novel, so be aware that there's at least one Big Issue that factors in heavily. Some parents might object. As it's a major plot point, I'll specify in the comments.
Barbara Michaels fans might want to give it a try, though it doesn't have the classic all-loose-ends-tied-up-in-a-big-pink-glittery-bow Barbara Michaels super happy ending. It's a rarity for me to risk a hardback in the tub, but it was a perfect bath book.