Slayton (Liz and Nellie, 2016, etc.) offers a 19th-century update of “Sleeping Beauty” in this YA novel.
In a town in Vermont, 16-year-old Briar Rose Jenny works at the spinning mill to take care of her three younger siblings following the death of her parents. It’s been difficult: Briar can’t quite make ends meet, and when she tries to pick up sewing work from her neighbors, she faces anti-Irish hostility. To make matters worse, her fiance abruptly calls off their engagement and now flaunts his new relationship before Briar’s eyes. What’s more, the children’s babysitter keeps going on about fairies and “Sleeping Beauty,” and Briar’s only friend, the goofy-but-chivalrous Henry Prince, is sailing away for Europe. Briar is tempted, then, when a peddler offers a solution to all her problems: “It was unlike any spindle Briar had ever seen before. The whorl was carved with roses and the wooden shaft, stained a light brown, came to an unusually sharp point on the end.” The peddler claims the spindle will bring prosperity to anyone who uses it, allowing her to spin faster than all the other girls at the mill. Briar leaps at the opportunity to make more money and keep custody of her siblings, but the secrets of the spindle—and their connections to an old story in which Briar does not believe—may prove not just dangerous, but deadly. Slayton, a natural storyteller, writes in smooth, practical prose that nevertheless manages to retain the romance and mystery one expects from a fairy tale. The placement of the yarn in the context of an immigrant family in an industrial mill town makes for an intriguing contrast with the original version. That said, there’s little reinvention of the wheel. The book rests comfortably within its genre, and things end up about where the reader expects them. Slayton’s project aims to tell a simple, compelling story about responsibility, expectation, disappointment, and love, and she succeeds in doing so.
A well-constructed take on a famous fairy tale and heroine.