When we meet 12-year-old Maggie Turner, the heroine of Sylvia Cassedy's underrated young-adult novel Behind the Attic Wall
, she's scowling, dressed in brown and almost immediately vomits. As a kid reading this book, I loved her. She's the anti-Alice, the un-Annie—a grouchy mess of an orphan who seems to resist all friendly advances, all inklings of pleasantness. After getting sent to live with her stern maiden aunts in a creepy mansion, she doesn't want to find a world of wonder, she just wants to break stuff. Then she discovers a pair of dolls in the attic who talk to her. This is a child who has never had a single friend, mind you, and it is truly with a joyful excitement that you watch her start to take care of the dolls, to join them in their never-ending tea party, to help them take some air in the garden (a strip of flowered wallpaper). Maggie's self-loathing is so complete that she hates her own name and finds even her knees to be ugly; accepting that she might be capable of loving, worthy of being loved, comes as a complete surprise to her. But guess what? After practicing on the dolls, she finds herself ready to love actual humans too, and—to her, this is the biggest surprise of all—ready to be loved in return.
Behind the Attic Wall