English author Lucy Strange (The Secret of Nightingale Wood) transports readers to a thrilling and mysterious world in Sisters of the Lost Marsh, a gothic fairy tale fueled by female empowerment.
Twelve-year-old Willa and her five sisters barely scrape by on their farm at the edge of a marsh with their mean-spirited father. Everyone assumes that the sisters are doomed because of a folk rhyme called “The Curse of the Six Daughters,” which purports to predict the fate of any family with six daughters. Despite such dismal conditions, Willa and her sisters find small joys with help from their Grammy, who taught them to read the books hidden away in her secret cupboard, many of which she and the girls’ late mother wrote, even though reading and writing are strictly forbidden for women in their village.
The delicate balance of the sisters’ existence crumples, however, when their father trades his oldest daughter, Grace, to an older man, Silas Kirby, in exchange for a horse. Silas intends to marry Grace, but before the deal can be finalized, Grace disappears.
Willa often feels “like the ugly duckling,” caught between her “taller, fairer” older sisters and her younger sisters, who are triplets. But Willa was named for her strong will, so she steals her father’s fine new steed and sets off across the marsh to find Grace. The marsh is full of mesmerizing magic and atmospheric suspense, and readers will be swept along on Willa’s epic adventure, made all the more urgent when she discovers that her father and Silas are in hot pursuit and that Grace may have fallen prey to a mythical figure from their mother’s stories.
Strange is a gifted storyteller who masterfully balances good and evil, dreariness and hope. She incorporates a few perfectly timed doses of horror that will entertain middle grade readers without overwhelming them. Honest and riveting, Sisters of the Lost Marsh is a tale of girls boldly taking charge of their own fates, flying fearlessly in the face of a community trying to scare them into submission and ignorance. These six sisters, “side by side like a row of paper dolls,” turn out to be as strong as steel.