Roland Merullo’s latest novel is far from your typical coming-of-age novel. Consider the conclusion of Carolyn See’s Washington Post review, “But this isn’t just another story about an unfortunate girl escaping terrible circumstances or a gothic mystery about missing children, and it’s even better than I can make it sound. Set as it is in New England, it looks at the American connection between devout religion and veiled murderousness — the same deadly combination that once tore through Salem. Where does that impulse come from, and how does it inform our current lives?”
I know all I would need to do to sell this novel to teens (and I would probably limit that to older teens) is to mention the word cult, but the quality of the writing and character development deserve more. Intriguing.
Adult/High School–Seventeen-year-old Marjorie Richards is different. An object of ridicule in her small New Hampshire town, she speaks in a strange dialect that her parents’ extreme religious fervor has created to keep them separate from the outside world. The slightest transgressions cause Marjorie to suffer bizarre punishments like “facing” (church members poking her hard in the face while she wears a paper bag over her head) and “boying” (her parents addressing her as Boy while making her do menial labor dressed as a boy). Her family is barely scraping by financially, so she is told to look for work. Marjorie finds a job with Sands, a half-black man with a tenuous connection to her family, who is building what he terms a cathedral. While learning the stonemason’s trade, she discovers that life, along with all its many foibles, is larger than her small and miserable existence, and that she, much like the stone she begins to work, has an untapped inner strength. The Talk-Funny Girl encompasses a larger look at life and the way ordinary people live it. There is a strange foreboding throughout due to peripheral disappearances of young girls, which, although they tie into Marjorie’s story in an unexpected way, detract from the quieter, more intriguing narrative of a girl who is blooming and finding her way in a world outside her experience. The slow pacing and introspective tone is not for everyone, but teens who enjoy thoughtful explorations and an unusual point of view will appreciate Marjorie’s story.–Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI