At the beginning of Whisper My Name, twelve year old Meriel is travelling 'home' to England from India. Her mother had died, and her father, who is almost penniless, is sending her to London to live with her grandfather, believing that this will be the best thing for her. Meriel is bitterly resentful: she's already lost her beloved mother, and now she is losing her father and her home as well.
Things do not improve when she meets her grandfather. He is cold and fierce, and almost the first thing he does is to put her through a series of mysterious tests - he makes measurements of her, he tests her educational attainments, and he makes it very clear that he finds her a very disappointing specimen in every way. Meriel is not sure who she hates most: her father for sending her away, or her grandfather for being so unpleasant. But she is a determined girl, and she refuses to be cowed. 'She only had herself to rely on. Very well. She would be like the tiger, solitary and fierce.'
The one thing that keeps her going through the next few years is the hope that she will eventually be able to go home to India. But on her sixteenth birthday - marked by the usual tests and the gift of a box of pen nibs - her grandfather tells her that this is not going to happen. Her father has no means of paying the fare, and her grandfather expects her to stay with him until such time as she makes a suitable marriage. Her ambition is to be an actress - not a suitable calling for a girl of her class.
Furious, Meriel rebels. With the help of her maid she manages to escape the house and explore a little she meets an old friend of her mother's, Mrs Jolly, who proves to be the catalyst for change in Meriel's life. Through her, she meets two mediums - one a charlatan, but one genuine - and as a result, she eventually comes face to face with the shocking truth behind her grandfather's coldness
I can't say any more about what happens because it would spoil the book for you. What happens is intriguing and unexpected; we are given glimpses into aspects of Victorian life which certainly I knew virtually nothing about. Meriel is a powerful and colourful character; sometimes, I found her a little too powerful: she constantly forges ahead doing what she thinks she must, without considering the effect of her actions on people she is fond of. But she certainly makes life interesting. The character of Sophie, the young medium, is an interesting counterpoint - subtle where Meriel is brash, thoughtful where Meriel is headstrong.
The story is a great page-turner, colourful and passionate and vivid - definitely recommended for teenage girls.
Whisper My Name is published by Macmillan, and costs £6.99.
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