Book Review: We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni

I’ve done it twice in a row now — reading historical fiction, when I tell myself I don’t like historical fiction. And for the second time in a row — as with Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin & Lisa Brown — I discovered that, in the right circumstances, I actually do like historical fiction.

We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni tells the true story (okay, so it’s fictionalized — but it’s based on a true story) of the Fox Sisters — Maggie and Kate — who are essentially credited with starting the Spiritualist movement in the mid 1800s.

The story begins with a prank. As children (well, pre-teens) Maggie & Kate decide to play a joke on their cousin, and using some clever trickery make noises to convince their cousin that the house is haunted. Except soon their whole family — then the whole town, and then nearby communities — are convinced the hauntings are real & that the Fox sisters have a special talent for communing with the dead through so-called “spirit rapping.”

From there, the prank becomes a way of life — and when their older sister gets involved, it also becomes the source of a steady income. But as the Fox Sisters notoriety grows, Maggie meets & falls in love with an explorer — whose only wish is that she’ll give up “spirit rapping” for a more respectable life. And really, what’s a girl to do?

Salerni does a brilliant job of balancing the story that is based on fact with the romance between Maggie and her explorer. Reading We Hear the Dead, I would find myself entranced by the plot one moment, and the next I’d be sighing and giggling over the latest romantic moment. (Yes, true confession: I giggled at one particular moment in the novel.)

We Hear the Dead finely walks the tightrope of historical retelling and period romance, all the while presenting some modern heroines in an unlikely setting. And while the story begins with a prank, it concludes with a young woman in the mid-19th century making a bold and daring decision for herself. Through Salerni’s storytelling, Maggie Fox becomes a heroine worth admiring. If only reading history textbooks were this exciting and interesting, the whole world would be historical scholars!

Written with the true voice of a period novel, Salerni also proves the fantasy for all self-published authors: that sometimes your book really is good enough to attract a publisher. That’s just the case with We Hear the Dead, which Salerni originally published on her own before it was picked up by Sourcebooks. It is now in stores.

Check out more in the We Hear the Dead book trailer:

Also recommended: Check out the movies The Illusionist and The Prestige … both take place during the later years of the Spiritualist movement (the turn of the 20th century), but I was frequently reminded of them while reading We Hear the Dead!

Tune in tomorrow for our exclusive interview with author Dianne K. Salerni!


6 thoughts on “Book Review: We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni

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  1. I LOVE historical fiction, although I haven’t read much YA historical fiction. I’ll have to give this and “Picture the Dead” a try. (BTW, I can recommend some GOOD HF if you want!)

    1. Yes, I was very pleasantly surprised by both of these. I had … not good expectations … and both were highly entertaining. I especially loved the illustrations in “Picture the Dead.” The gave the book a very unique quality, and definitely added to the story (rather than just “illustrating” the story.)

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