Fourteen-year-old Faith Sunderly and her family are fleeing to a remote island, and Faith has no idea why. Her stern clergyman father is a naturalist of some renown, and she suspects that he has made someone upset. Has he been outspoken about his position on the new theory of evolution? Not that Faith is sure what his position might be, if he has. All she knows is that she and her pretty, flirtatious mother, her affable Uncle Miles, and her little brother, Howard, have been whisked away to the island of Vane, where her father will be joining a local archeology dig.
Plain, brilliant Faith is a disappointment to her mother, so she is usually banished to the nursery to take care of Howard, while she would rather be studying natural science with her father. The servants in the house they’ve rented are gossiping over a newspaper story about Faith’s father, but young ladies are not allowed to read newspapers, so she can’t figure out why the islanders whisper about them, or why her family seems so nervous. Faith has learned that hiding her intelligence allows her to listen quietly and to gather information without being noticed. When a terrible calamity happens, Faith may be the only one who can solve a mystery and save her family from ruin.
Hardinge’s multi-starred historical fiction novel has well-developed secondary characters, including the coroner’s strange teenage son and several adults who are much more dangerous than they seem. The magical tree at the heart of the story feeds on lies, and Faith begins to realize that the wild growth of the lie tree reveals the darkness that grows in her own soul. The increasing struggle between the mother, who is transparently using her beauty and almost scandalous flirtation to get her own way with men, and the scholarly daughter, who is suffocating from the narrow confines of women’s roles in the nineteenth century, is brought to a poignant resolution in a scene near the end of the novel.
This slowly-unfolding mystery has heart-stopping suspense and a strong streak of feminism, and it shines a bright light on the darkness in our souls that may cause us to pursue our own desires, no matter what the cost to ourselves and others. Recommended for young teens.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.