In prison, there are few secrets. But Libby Dodge, the youngest inmate, guards the nature of her crime from the other women, even as they openly recount their former lives as arsonists, thieves, and prostitutes. Libby's hopeless and miserable situation changes unexpectedly with the arrival of a new chaplain, Mrs. Wilkinson. Mrs. Wilkinson has ...
In prison, there are few secrets. But Libby Dodge, the youngest inmate, guards the nature of her crime from the other women, even as they openly recount their former lives as arsonists, thieves, and prostitutes. Libby's hopeless and miserable situation changes unexpectedly with the arrival of a new chaplain, Mrs. Wilkinson. Mrs. Wilkinson has surprising and newfangled ideas about prison reform, which include launching an elaborate production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. The production transforms the women-their views of themselves, their abilities, their place in the world.
Publishers Weekly, 2003-06-23 Karr (Skullduggery; The Great Turkey Walk) bases this vivid historical novel on an actual performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance in a women's prison in 1914. The novel starts off strong, propelled by the comic voice of 16-year-old narrator Libby Dodge and titillating clues about what this elegant, educated heroine did to land among a company of reprobates. (Other inmates include Mother McCreary, "a jolly sort-in for life after having whacked her husband over the head, then chopped him into tiny pieces," arsonist Molly Matches and the perfidious Gladys, who "made a mint on her `baby farm' " but killed the illegitimate offspring in her care.) In keeping with the mood of the times, the new chaplain, Mrs. Wilkinson, advocates reform and rehabilitation, not mere punishment, and with this aim she forms a prison choir (a premise that Gilbert and Sullivan themselves might have relished). The former choir mistress of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (which specialized in G&S), Mrs. Wilkinson decides to stage Penzance; readers don't need prior knowledge of the comic opera to appreciate the humor of the prisoners' reactions ("[The pirates would] make awful burglars!" scoffs one). Freely importing the spirit of light opera, Karr creates an atmosphere not wholly dissimilar to a madcap multi-age dormitory, despite the grim conditions; and her heroine, during a week in solitary confinement, recounts a past that is full of melodramatic reversals while she heads toward a triumphant future. Wittily illuminating the issues of another era, this novel both stimulates and entertains. Ages 10-14. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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