Set in the American South one generation after the Civil War, The Magnetic Girl is a mystical story about one girl’s journey from a gawky, small-town farmer’s daughter to a well-known, alluring performer.
Lulu Hurst sneaks into her father’s study one evening and finds a book that changes the course of her life. Mrs. Wolf’s The Truth of Mesmeric Influence becomes Lulu’s bible as she learns to hone her natural skills of “captivating” people around her, essentially holding them in a trance. But Lulu keeps more secrets than just her captivating skills; she dropped her brother on his head when he was an infant, and from then on, his development stagnated. Lulu never told her parents about the accident. Her guilt weighs her down, though she believes one day her magnetism can heal her brother.
As she reads and memorizes Mrs. Wolf’s book, Lulu feels as if the author is speaking directly to her. When Lulu’s father confronts her about the missing book, he surprises her by letting her keep it. He then trains his talented daughter to perform “tests” that, through the laws of physics, allow Lulu to appear as if she possesses unparalleled, unnatural strength. She perfects the tests, and her family hosts her first show in the parlor of their home.
Quickly Lulu becomes a sensation and takes her act on the road. As the Magnetic Girl, Lula learns to embrace her physical and mental strength, and she gains confidence as she sees different parts of the world and earns more and more money for her family. When an aging mesmerist calls on her for a visit, Lulu questions her “powers” and wonder about the illusive author of her beloved book.
Author Jessica Handler paints a quaint picture of life in the late 19th century, when electricity was a new phenomenon. Lulu begins as a young woman used to obeying her parents, but through her performances, she begins to see her parents and their shortcomings more clearly. The Magnetic Girl is hypnotic tale about a girl growing into a woman and discovering the truth of her own powers.