Neither Lizzie Rose nor Parsefall really likes working for the cruel Grisini. Orphaned a year ago, Lizzie Rose remembers well the happy family life she shared with her parents. She tries to recapture that with Parsefall, treating him as a younger brother. Parsefall has lived longer with the puppeteer, who “rescued” him from the workhouse, and has learned to fear the man. The children know that the alternative is to live on the street, so they make the best of a bad situation. Lizzie Rose strives to maintain her personal dignity and moral uprightness; Parsefall struggles to win Grisini’s approval.
When Grisini gives a puppet show at the Wintermute home for Clara Wintermute’s birthday, Clara and Lizzi Rose quickly become friends. Parsefall sees an opportunity to “pick-up” some valuables with which he can endear himself to his master. The morning after the party, however, more is missing from the Wintermute home than a few personal items. Clara herself is gone, and the police suspect that Grisini has kidnapped her. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall have their suspicions as well and soon find themselves caught in the crossfire between the puppet master and a witch named Cassandra.
Laura Amy Schlitz’s engrossing Newbery Honor book captures the reader’s attention with well-developed characters and an intricate plot. The author plants seemingly unimportant details into the early chapters and gradually brings them together. Each of the children demonstrates character in their own way: Lizzie Rose remains true to her moral upbringing; Parsefall displays chivalry and loyalty beyond his years; and Clara risks her own safety to save her friends. They all show forgiveness and understanding and in this way give hope to a soul who believed she was lost.
While the publisher recommends this novel for children ages 9-12, parents may feel it is more appropriate for older middle school age readers. Some morbidity, the brief mention suicide, pornography, tarot cards, and the Black Mass, and as well as excessive drinking on the part of certain adults and one profanity are more fitting for an older audience. These are all clearly portrayed as gravely evil, however, and contrast starkly with the innocence of the protagonists in the story.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.