The fantastical middle-grade novel The Girl from the Attic begins in 2001, as city girl Maddy is bent out of shape about having to move to the countryside with her family. Her remarried, pregnant mother and new stepfather, “Dan the Man,” are fleeing urban life to take up residence in a quirky octagon-shaped house in rural Ontario. Once there, a bored Maddy follows a curious black cat through a little green door to the house’s attic, only to find herself thrust back in time to the early 1900s.
Maddy meets Aunt Ella, who invites her for tea and recounts the house’s history and residents. At first, Maddy is unsure about her voyage into the past, but she soon befriends an intriguing and hardworking boy named Clarence (Clare) who is worried about his consumptive sister, Eva. Maddy and Clare find common ground as they hatch an entrepreneurial plan to help save Eva.
It doesn’t take long for Maddy to understand that once through the portal she must dress and behave like a girl to avoid looking “strange” and that she’s not welcome in places like the old mill, where the menfolk typically do the heavy lifting. The author embeds a feminist undercurrent in the novel, as Maddy learns just how far girls and women have come in the past 100 years.
Maddy’s visits to the past don’t appear to affect her life in 2001: the author swiftly moves her heroine back and forth between the emotional dramas in the two eras. Along the way, Maddy gathers lessons in maturity and responsibility and begins to appreciate the benefits of modern life and how fortunate she is to be loved and cared for at home.
Readers will delight in the cat illustrations by Edward Hagedorn that open each chapter, and the illustrated floor plans of the octagonal house are helpful in navigating all of Maddy’s adventures. A nostalgic time capsule for the first decade of two successive centuries, The Girl from the Attic is a charming lesson in gratitude and what it means to live in the present.