Jennie Lovell has suffered much tragedy in her 16 years. Her parents died, her twin brother was killed fighting in the Civil War, and now her fiancé/cousin has also fallen on the battlefield. The aunt and uncle who have taken her in—never overly warm towards her— have fallen on hard times. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if they put her out.
Jennie’s cousin Quinn seems to be harboring a secret about his brother’s death, and his own wounding in combat. When the family turns to a spiritualist photographer to help calm their grief, Jennie begins to feel her fiancé is trying to send a message through the prints made. Deciphering the meaning of what she sees may just save her life.
Picture the Dead, written by Adele Griffin and illustrated by Lisa Brown, intertwines the interest in spiritualism that was rampant during the American Civil War with the story of soldiers who fought in the war and the families they left behind. So many young men died in bloody conflict it’s not surprising that their mothers, fathers and siblings sought to know if their loved ones found comfort on the other side. Photography had only recently been created, so it’s maybe not surprising that people tied the mysteries that went on in a photographer’s dark room with the mysteries of death.
Readers also see the precarious position that women of the times were often in. Dependent on the men in their lives for support, their entire futures could easily be turned upside down if a husband, father or brother died. During the Civil War, many of them did. Part historical fiction, part mystery, Picture the Dead is deliciously creepy and fun to read. Jennie keeps a scrapbook, and black-and white illustrations portray the things she secretes away: newspaper clippings, photographs, lists, letters, and notes from her twin. I highly recommend this book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up.’