The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead


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Emily Stewart is the girl who will claim to stand between the living and the dead. She and her brother Michael are thirteen-year-old twins, privileged, precocious, wandering aimlessly around their family’s Philadelphia estate during the quiet summer of 1925. One day Emily discovers an odd physical tic—she can secretly crack a joint in her ankle so the sound seems to burst from midair. In their garden tea house, Emily and Michael gather the neighborhood children to fool them with these “spirit knockings.” But soon this game of contacting the dead creeps into a world of adults still reeling from World War I. When the twins find themselves dabbling in the uncertain territory of human grief and family secrets, their game spins wildly out of control.

A layered, multigenerational story, The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead is a novel about family secrets, love triangles, missing people. It is about the desperate need to contact the departed, about faith and chicanery, and what we ultimately will do for forgiveness.

Praise for The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead

"Elwork paints an unforgettable portrait of individuals traumatized by death and unhinged by grief. The subtle and moving portrayal of people in the grip of powerful emotions that overwhelm rational thinking will haunt readers long after they put the book down."

-Publishers Weekly starred review

"An intricate yet beautifully told story that is less about ghosts and more about secrets and how destructive they can be."

-Kirkus Reviews

"Family secrets, a love triangle, and a duplicitous magician add to the darkening atmosphere of a thought-provoking novel that blurs the boundaries between faith and trickery."


"Elwork's debut incorporates elements of World War I and early 20th-century spiritualism that will appeal to history enthusiasts, but it is his somber tone and emotional evocation of loss and heartbreak that will win over readers of literary fiction."

-Library Journal

"Elwork’s debut is dark, meditative, and thought-provoking, and will remain with readers long after the book is finished."

-Historical Novels Review

"Beautifully written... Masterful... If writing can be thought of as a sort of telepathy—a rousing and rendering of spirits—then Elwork is as talented a clairvoyant as any you're ever likely to encounter."

-Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan

"Wonderful... A mystery story about the greatest mystery there is: can we ever again connect with the loved ones we've lost? Paul Elwork knows why people believe in unknown worlds. I certainly believe in his."

-Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish

"Suspenseful, haunting, elegantly written. These darkly imaginative children will give you goose-bumps and make your heart ache."

-Jennifer McMahon, New York Times-bestselling author of Promise Not to Tell

"That rare book that offers the right combination of intense and compelling characters, a fascinating plot, and enough suspense to keep you turning pages even when you want to stop and savor the lovely writing. Like the twins at the heart of this evocative ghostly tale, haunted by their imagination, Elwork's imagination will haunt you."

-M.J. Rose, bestselling author of The Memoirist and The Reincarnationist

"So good, I’m jealous I didn’t write it myself."

-Douglas Clegg, author of Neverland

"A haunting gothic fable full of the eerie magic of childhood, where games can so easily transform into something else and where solutions to adult grief and loss seem possible. Strangely beautiful, always surprising, The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead shimmers right at the edge between wishful thinking and delusion, and every so often slips into nightmare. I was entranced."

-Suzanne Berne, author of A Crime in the Neighborhood

"...a ghost story without ghosts, but with enough secrets, mysteries, and hints of the uncanny to engage readers interested in supernatural literature."

-Cemetery Dance Magazine

"A mysterious little gem."

-Dan Pope, author of In the Cherry Tree