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How It Happened in Peach Hill    by Marthe Jocelyn order for
How It Happened in Peach Hill
by Marthe Jocelyn
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Fifteen-year old Annie Grey and Mama move for the eighth time to Peach Hill, New York, in the early 1920's. Mama, known as Madame Caterina, is a clairvoyant, fortune teller, palm and card reader, as well as a sťance conduit with loved ones. Mama tells clients that her second sight began as a child hearing voices and having visions. Madame refers to her 'gift as a sensitive way with the spirit world that helps those seeking solace', or help in finding missing items (Mama's 'nimble fingers cause the misplacement'). The latter scam went haywire when Annie was six years old. Mama was jailed in a stone cellar for two days, while Annie was confined at the Sheriff's home in Carling, Jew Jersey.

Annie poses as an idiot, roaming the streets and stores with pencil and paper, gathering coded notes overheard from discussions of potential customers. Residents take pity on her, not realizing that Annie is Mama's gopher for gossip. Annie's life is painful, as other teens taunt her, throw pebbles, or trip her. She wants out but feels torn between Mama and a real life using her intelligence. Annie worries whether 'pretending to be stupid and clumsy was turning me stupid and clumsy?' and wonders 'Was I pretty at all? Could a boy ever look at me and think so? Could Sammy Sloane?' From Mama, Annie yearns to be hugged, and to hear three words, 'I love you'. But it is housekeeper Peg who hugs and comforts her.

Wealthy widower Mr. Poole comes to Madame, believing the spirit of his dead wife is haunting him. Madame convinces Mr. Poole that a sťance should be held at his home, where his wife's spirit is strongest. Mama's plan is to marry Mr. Poole - for at least five years. Annie is suspicious of Mr. Poole, especially when she spots his dead wife's bracelet (used as a contact object in the sťance) in the window of a pawn shop. Annie devises a plan to cure her affliction and Mama adds healer to her repertoire of talents. Encountering the truant officer, Annie says: 'I believe that I have been possessed by a spirit from the year 1214. She entered my mind and took control of my limbs ... her name is Gwendalen'.

Annie becomes a vessel for the spirit of Gwendalen, and sits alongside Mama, coming into her own with clients. Mr. Poole forges his own plan and suggests to Mama, 'I would very much like to offer my services as a manager for your talents, and those that your daughter is now displaying. May I take you out for dinner very soon to discuss the possibilities?' Annie attends high school and makes a difference in many people's lives. She especially helps a thieving street-girl, whose mother loves alcohol and whose minister father is abusive. The reverend does not believe in school, feeling 'that learning comes through the guidance of a heavenly hand'.

Young readers will relate to aspects of Annie's turmoil as she muses: 'A train whistle echoed like an owl as I walked slowly ... Was this the world where I wanted to live? All these years of following Mama and never thinking about a life that might be different. Would it be braver to leave or to stay?' It Happened in Peach Hill, as narrator Annie tells it, is a test in 'the torture and courage of choosing her own road'.

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