STARRED REVIEW
August 15, 2017

Boundaries of forest and psyche

By Kate Hamer

Kate Hamer’s piercingly sad, engrossing novel is a modern fairy tale.

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Kate Hamer’s piercingly sad, engrossing novel is a modern fairy tale.

It’s a familiar premise: An orphan finds out that the perfectly dreadful people who raised her aren’t her biological parents and so embarks on a search to find her real ones. Per usual in such a tale, the questing orphan has something special about her. In the latest novel from the author of The Girl in the Red Coat, the orphan is a British girl named Ruby with a port wine stain on her face and a talent that truly sets her apart—she sees dead people.

Ruby finds a surrogate family in the woods: three teenage siblings, not orphaned but abandoned by their hippie parents in a great pile of a house. There’s Tom, who loves her at first sight, flame-haired Elizabeth and tetchy Crispin. One of the kids has a secret, the nature of which is such that when it’s revealed, readers may go back to the earlier chapters to look for clues. While Ruby lives with her new family, they make do, milking goats and shooting wild rabbits for supper. And bit by bit, she learns the sad tale of her Mum and Dad, who were too young when she came along and not ready for her.

In The Doll Funeral, the relations of parents and children are not only difficult but impossible. There isn’t a single parent/child relationship that works. Ruby’s horrid adoptive parents were no more ready for her than her biological parents, who had lost a child too soon before they brought her into their lives. The siblings’ parents eventually stop sending money. Even Ruby’s ghostly companion, Shadow, was once a boy abandoned and left to die. Yet despite the grief all of this entails, Hamer’s novel reminds the reader that family does not necessarily mean blood, and love and connection are possible. For a girl like Ruby, they transcend death itself.

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The Doll Funeral

The Doll Funeral

By Kate Hamer
Melville House
ISBN 9781612196657

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