The Hangman in the MirrorBook - 2011
A strong-willed 16-year-old girl fights for survival in 18th-century North America.
Françoise Laurent has never had an easy life. The only surviving child of a destitute washerwoman and wayward soldier, she must rely only on herself to get by. When her parents die suddenly from the smallpox ravishing New France, Françoise sees it as a chance to escape the life she thought she was trapped in.
Seizing her newfound opportunity, Françoise takes a job as an aide to the wife of a wealthy fur trader. The poverty-ridden world she knew transforms into a strange new world full of privilege and fine things -- and of never having to beg for food. But Françoise's relationships with the other servants in Madame Pommereau's house are tenuous, and Madame Pommereau isn't an easy woman to work for. When Françoise is caught stealing a pair of her mistress's beautiful gloves, she faces a future even worse than she could have imagined: thrown in jail, she is sentenced to death by hanging. Once again, Françoise is left to her own devices to survive . . . Is she cunning enough to convince the prisoner in the cell beside her to become the hangman and marry her, which, by law, is the only thing that could save her life?
Based on an actual story and filled with illuminating historical detail, The Hangman in the Mirror transports readers to the harsh landscape of a new land that is filled with even harsher class divisions and injustices.
From the critics
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Fifteen-year-old Françoise Laurent, raised in squalor by impoverished alcoholics, dreams of a better life; one filled with food and warm clothes, grandeur and pride. Montreal in the 1700s, however, is a place of harsh weather, brutal justice and a yawning chasm between the social classes. When her parents succumb to an outbreak of measles, Françoise embraces her newfound independence as a fresh start. She leaves her home for a promising and comfortable position as a lady’s maid yet is unable to reconcile herself to a life as a dependent servant. In rebellion, she steals a pair of her mistress’ gloves and is sentenced to death by hanging. Her only chance of escape is to convince the prisoner in the next cell to become the hangman and marry her.
This glimpse of life in New France is most interesting when examining the difference between the wealthy merchants and the poor. So successful is the author in drawing us into Françoise’s life of deprivation that the reader shares Françoise’s shock when her mistress chides that well-bred ladies always leave some of their food uneaten. Teens will sympathize with Françoise’s attempts to construct a new identity, find acceptance and figure out where she fits in the social structure of her time; she is determined not to cast herself with the other servants, yet comes to realize that her superiors’ authority depends on keeping her stationed below them.
Françoise is an unusual heroine in that she can be cold, rough, manipulative and mean-spirited, not only under desperate circumstances but with her friends. While these traits are perhaps realistic of teens growing up with hardship, they fail to entirely endear her to the reader. Despite her shortcomings and bad decisions, Françoise is also determined, resourceful, clever, brave and enterprising with a gift for storytelling and a fierce will to live. In the end she uses her power with words to save her life, but realizes that, as for everyone else in this new land, freedom always comes with a price.
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