The Secret of Nightingale Wood
Chicken House, March 2019
While middle-grade The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange is a relatively recent release (2016 in the UK, 2017 in the US) the bittersweet story is set in 1919. The absolute resilience and fierce determination of 13-year-old Henrietta (Henry) exemplifies a young hero to applaud.
The Abbott family has suffered a tragedy at the same time that they receive a blessing. The shock and unimaginable pain combined with “hysteria” (a very common type of depression today) that Mrs. Abbott exhibits, call for complete rest. The forever-changed family, along with Nanny Jane, pack up and move to Hope House.
There, Dr. Hardy eagerly awaits his subject patient. He’s partnered up with a “cutting edge” doctor and cannot wait to try his brilliant new techniques such as giving folks tropical diseases so that the fever “cures” the brain or soaking someone in a scalding-hot bath.
Henry not only dislikes Dr. Hardy, she does not trust that his best interests are in making her mother better. She thinks Nanny Jane may agree, but her hands are tied and Mr. Abbott has been sent away for work. Henry is truly alone.
Until a tendril of smoke catches her eye. Henry walks into the dark woods, as if she’s being led. The last thing she expected to find was a wild-haired woman living in a rusted caravan. Henry cannot be sure if the ghostly figure is real or a figment of her imagination. But she is going to find out.
In her quest to save her mother from the asylum and the greedy hands of Dr. Hardy, Henry attempts to confirm her own sanity. As she seeks answers, she inadvertently solves a three-year-old mystery and motivates a few adults to support her in doing the right thing.
Absolutely appropriate for pre-teen and younger teenagers, the authenticity of such an altruistic adolescent captured the heart of this Old Adult reader. I may have even sniffled and shed a few tears.
Reviewed by jv poore, September 2020.