The Museum of Mary Child
by Cassandra Golds
Review: In a prison far away and long ago lives a young man who as hope vanishes nearly completely, is visited by birds who instruct him to tell stories. The same birds visit a young girl whose hope has disappeared completely as she lies in a mental institution. However she does not listen to the birds, and at once they know they cannot help her. And so begins Cassandra Golds' The Museum of Mary Child. At the center of the story is a young girl, Heloise, of a nondescript age who lives with her godmother in a house completely lacking in any sort of love or compassion. Her godmother runs a museum on their property – a horrific museum that leaves its visitors shocked and appalled – The Museum of Mary Child. Heloise knows only this life – a life of solitude, fear, loneliness, and emptiness. She is forbidden to ask questions or speak with other children or even to enter the museum. Her reading is monitored so much so that her Bible is glued together so that she does not read parts her godmother deems unnecessary. But for the most part, Heloise accepts her station in life – simply because she doesn't know any better. However, more than anything else, Heloise wants a doll; for although Heloise knows nothing about "love", a doll can be loved and can love unconditionally. Much to her surprise, Heloise notices a floorboard that is not quite like the others, and hidden beneath the floor is a doll. Everything in Heloise's life changes at that very moment. The Museum of Mary Child is a story of stories. The lives of the prisoner, the ward in the mental institution, and Heloise are intertwined tighter and tighter as the novel progresses. With the help of the birds, Heloise realizes that "everything is in prison" and that only she can bring down the "bars" that confine them all.
Both intriguing and disturbing, The Museum of Mary Child captures its readers and thrusts them into a world that is both known and unknown to us all. The rather complex story is intertwined beautifully around a central theme – the power of love. Although at times, particularly early on in the novel, the plot seems to drag, curiosity propels the reader ahead in a need to uncover the mystery behind Heloise and her connection to the museum and the unfortunate souls.
The character development in this novel is simply outstanding. Heloise is a multi-layered character. As the story begins, the reader is merely aware of the outer layer – the girl that is oppressed and forced to avoid anything that could be construed as A Waste of Time. However, as Heloise learns to love in spite of her godmother and escapes the ties that bind her, we are introduced to a deeper layer as she begins to make sense of her previous life. Heloise runs away with her doll to a new home and feels true love for the first time. "It was as if the blood in her veins had turned into something shining and magical." Once Heloise learns that everything is in prison and that she is the only one who can bring freedom, we meet a more mature and wise Heloise, one that is willing to risk her new freedom and newfound family to free others. Finally, at the intense climax, Heloise is stripped of her layers and we are finally able to understand the real Heloise.
Along with Heloise, the reader is required to recognize the bars that imprison all of us. Golds incorporates remarkable symbolism throughout the novel that forces deep reflection while reading. At once, the reader suddenly realizes that this book isn't just about Heloise, but rather it's about the reader. We all are part of a story, and we all are bound by bars of some kind. Ultimately we all can begin to tear down those bars with something as simple, but yet as complex as love. The Museum of Mary Child is undoubtedly a book that can be read over and over again uncovering new meanings with each reading.
Special thanks to Alex Nauert for contributing his review of The Museum of Mary Child.
Acknowledgment: Kane/Miller provided a copy of The Museum of Mary Child for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Alex Nauert — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Location(s) referenced in The Museum of Mary Child:
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The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds
Publication Date: June 2009
List Price: $16.99