The Dresskeeper by Mary Naylus
Friday, November 6, 2009
When 13-year-old Picky's Mum forces her to look after Gran, who has dementia, she is accidentally locked in Gran's dusty old attic. There she finds a chest full of old clothes, and tomboy Picky is forced to don what appears to be a ball-gown when the freezing night temperatures hit. As soon as the dress is pinned together, Picky is transported back to the year 1700, where a man who appears to know her as Amelia is trying to kill her. Managing to get the dress off just in time, Picky returns to the present with the dress covered in blood. Did the man kill the girl called Amelia? Will wearing the other dresses in the chest take her back in time too? And will she be in danger again should she try it? "The Dresskeeper" uses a contemporary 13-year-old viewpoint to explore this murder mystery, set in the early 18th Century.
Picky was a great narrator - sharply funny and just a bit sarcastic - and I absolutely loved her journeys back through time. When she puts on a dress in her grandmother's attic, she's Amelia, alive 300 years before and betrothed to a rich but awful Earl, and she appears in the garret of a dressmaker's. When she takes off the dress, she travels back to the present day - but she has to be in the dressmaker's in order to get back. She's skipping between the two realities, and the parts set in the 1600s are especially interesting - and very enlightening for Picky. She observes the huge gap between the wealthy and the poor, as well as terrible living conditions and sicknesses that are easily cured today, but which were uncurable back then.
There were a lot of different plotlines - Picky going into the past and trying to save Amelia, problems with her friend Luce and the popular girls at school in the present and trouble between her separated parents. I loved that so much was going on - it certainly added a lot of realism to a fantastical time-travel story - but I did wish they could have been developed further. I felt as if Luce's transformation occurred too quickly, and like Picky's father was never really a problem at all. I would've liked to see these things go into more detail, though that may have taken away from the historical plotline central to The Dresskeeper. Picky - who ordinarily hates History and all her other school subjects - is radically changed by her experiences in the past, and her present-day life changes as a result of this. The ending was incredibly sweet.
I think The Dresskeeper is a novel suitable for middle grade, as well as YA - the narrator is thirteen, and the themes are appropriate for anyone 10 and up. It's hilariously funny and the historical parts are fascinating, but there's also just enough suspense and intrigue to make it a great murder mystery too. Well worth checking out, especially for younger readers and lovers of historical fiction.
The Dresskeeper on Goodreads
The Dresskeeper on Amazon
Labels: book reviews