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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Review: The Disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper

Thrilling YA Historical: my heart was breaking for Kitty several times! 

Chronicling the fall from grace of a Regency dairymaid, this is a brilliant read. I always love a well-researched historical novel and you can absolutely rely on Mary Hooper to give you that. Here, her narrator is the eponymous Kitty Grey, dairymaid in a large Devonshire country house.

The narration is first person and past tense, showing us Kitty's lively and charming voice and giving us access to her thoughts, hopes and fears. She is young and naive, hardworking and reliable. She's a good and conscientious dairymaid who cares deeply for her cows and takes pride in her work. She worries so much about getting things right and not being thought badly of, and it's soon clear why, when we see how easily a working-class girl can come to harm. Her naivety leads her to trust where perhaps she shouldn't and there are several points where we can see she's about to come a cropper, but it doesn't occur to her.

Although the title and blurb give us cues that bad things are in store for Kitty, it's not always clear exactly what those are going to be, and there were certainly several twists that I couldn't have predicted, although often there was a generally ominous feeling, thanks to Mary Hooper's skilful ratcheting-up of the tension.

This is definitely a book to savour, and there were points where it was possible just to luxuriate in the period detail, while at other times, I was reading furiously to see what poor Kitty was going to face next or how she would ever get out of the mess she was in. It would definitely serve as a real eye opener for many readers on the period. I found it interesting that the main themes were around contrasts: rich and poor, country and city, good and evil.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable read with emotional depth and plenty of historical interest. There is a fabulous section giving historical context and information at the end, which will be much more meaningful to teen readers after they've enjoyed the story and seen this history brought to life.

From the book description:

Kitty is living a happy, carefree life as a dairymaid in the countryside. The grand family she is employed by looks after her well, and she loves her trade, caring for the gentle cows and working in the cool, calm dairy. And then, of course, there is Will, the river man who she thinks is very fond of her, and indeed she is of him. Surely he will ask her to marry him soon?

Then one day disaster strikes: Will disappears. Kitty is first worried and then furious. She fears that Will has only been leading her on all this time, and has now gone to London to make his fortune, forgetting about her completely. So when Kitty is asked to go to London to pick up a copy of Pride and Prejudice, the latest novel by the very fashionable Jane Austen, Kitty leaps at the chance to track down Will. But Kitty has no idea how vast London is, and how careful she must be. It is barely a moment before eagle-eyed pickpockets have spotted the country-born-and-bred Kitty and relieved her of her money and belongings. Dauntingly fast, she has lost her only means of returning home and must face the terrifying prospect of stealing in order to survive - and of being named a thief . . .

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Publishing 9 May by Bloomsbury Children's
Find more info about Mary Hooper's historical novels on her website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via Netgalley

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