The Hangman in the MirrorBook - 2011
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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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