Barbara Brooks Wallace, “Peppermints in the Parlor”

This is a reread of an old childhood favorite. I remember borrowing this book multiple times as a kid. It’s vaguely Darwinian with lots of orphans and mean matrons and an old sea captain. The short version: Eleven-year-old Emily’s parents die, and she’s sent to live with her aunt and uncle who live in a mansion in San Francisco. But when she arrives, her aunt is in servitude and the mansion is filled with old people who may as well be ghosts, terrified by a woman who runs the place with an iron fist and feeds them moldy bread and gruel. If anyone is caught stealing from a big bowl of peppermints in the parlor, they’re sent to a cell in the cellar to remember what they’ve done wrong. Suddenly a servant, Emily tries to breathe some life in the place — but will she get caught?

THE LOWDOWN
Published: 1985, 198 pp.
Obtained via: Library
Date started: 5.13.07
Date finished: 5.16.07
What I liked: The author has a good sense of tension and pacing. And for some reason I still remembered this part where the fishmonger’s son uses a piece of moldy bread to make a mold of a key.
What I didn’t like: Some of the characters’ language is a little stilted (done for effect, I’m sure, but where the heck are they supposed to be from?) and the ending comes around a little too swiftly.
What I learned: I had good taste as a kid.
Unresolved question: Having read this so many times as a kid, how could I still be surprised by the ending? Is my memory really that bad?

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