It is 18th-century Montreal, and 15-year-old Françoise Laurent has been sentenced to be hanged. How she came to that position is only gradually uncovered.
In a first-person narration that seems oddly inappropriate to Françoise’s humble background, she slowly reveals the hardships of her life: extreme poverty, brutally hard work, a total lack of education—until her father decides to teach her to read after her brother is stillborn—and a grim absence of any hope for a better future. Her character loosely based on a real person, the only living child of an often-drunk, failed soldier and his hard-drinking, prostitute-turned-washerwoman and wife, Françoise’s spirited guidance is the only thing that keeps them alive at all. When tragedy leads to the unexpected opportunity to become the personal maid to a wealthy, embittered lady, things seem to be looking up for her—at least until she makes a serious yet intentional blunder that results in her downfall. Françoise’s detailed descriptions of all that she sees provide a depth to the narrative but also slow it to a sometimes frustratingly languid pace. Her insights and language, while interesting, fail to ring completely true, given her uneducated, near-destitute upbringing.
A slow paced and ultimately depressing tale of a not-often-depicted place and time that will, though somewhat flawed, satisfy dedicated historical-fiction fans. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)