Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Review of We Hear the Dead

I met author, Dianne Salerni, through an on-line independent authors group website and bought her self-published book, High Spirits. I was happy to learn that the publishing rights to High Spirits were purchased by the newly-formed Young Adult Division of Sourcebooks, one of only six authors to make the cut. This is an excellent novel, and if you like American history, it is a must read. Here is my review as posted on Amazon.

We Hear the Dead is the story of Maggie and Kate Fox from Hydesville, New York, early members of the Spiritualist movement. Their first foray into the realm of Spiritualism was accidental--a prank played upon an annoying relation. However, the contrivance was so successful "that they extended the prank to include parents and their neighbors until deception became their way of life." The two young sisters, barely in their teens and guided by their business savvy older sister, succeeded in convincing people that they were able to communicate with spirits who had passed to the other side by rapping noises created by the cracking sounds of their knees, ankles, and toes.

The Spiritualist movement grew in the fertile ground of Upstate New York which was known as the "burned-over district" because so many revivals had been held there in the 1820s. The girls, especially Kate, came to see their séances as a way of providing comfort to grieving relatives by reassuring them that their loved ones were at peace in the afterlife.

The story focuses on the middle sister, Maggie, who falls in love with the explorer, Elisha Kent Kane, and who is aware that the Fox sisters' claim to communicate with the dead is a hoax. Before leaving on a rescue mission to the Arctic, Kane extracts a pledge from Maggie that she must give up her rapping, dangling the promise of a wedding before her. She agrees and keeps her eyes on the horizon waiting for her explorer to return.

Dianne Salerni is masterful in recreating the environment that allowed Spiritualism to flourish. Her detailed portraits of the Fox sisters allow modern readers to understand how these young women were able to pull the wool over the eyes of so many, including author James Fenimore Cooper, editor Horace Greeley, and the tragic wife of President Franklin Pierce. Her understanding of the time in which the Fox sisters lived as well as in-depth knowledge of this slice of American history enables her to write this engrossing and compelling story. It is beautifully written, with each chapter pulling you in to the lives of the Fox sisters. We Hear the Dead has been categorized as Young Adult, but it is a story that any member of the family who is interested in American history can read and enjoy.

Visit Dianne's blog.


  1. Hi Mary! How are you? Hope this finds you well. This sounds like a very good book. Certainly not a subject or setting I have reaed before. Thanks for the recommendation.

    And a belated thanks for the birthday wishes too :)

  2. Better late than never on the comments. I can highly recommend this book, and Dianne is a fellow eastern Pennsylvanian.