The Voice Upstairs by Laura E. Weymouth
Wilhelmina Price has a dubious reputation in the village of Thrush’s Green. Ever since her mother’s untimely death, she has been able to see a person’s spirit leaving their body days or hours before they die. Wil has never been able to prevent these deaths, so her unusual skill has made her an outsider to most except her lifelong friend, Edison, the youngest son of Lord Summerfield. But when a maid at the Summerfield’s estate dies in the same mysterious way as Wil’s own mother, Wil takes on a housemaid’s position to investigate whether these women might, in fact, have been murdered.
There is nothing Ed Summerfield values more than his friendship with Wil, which is why he’s desperate to disguise how hopelessly in love with her he’s become—and his belief that he may be haunted by the ghost of his older brother, Peter. Because if Wil, with her supernatural powers, can’t see the same evidence of hauntings that Ed does, he worries he may actually be losing his mind.
Together, Wil and Ed must dig deeper into the Summerfields’ hoard of secrets, though the truth won’t give itself up without a fight that could prove deadly to the both of them, as they face cunning adversaries among the living and the dead.
PUBLISHER: Margaret K. McElderry Books
LENGTH: 320 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Historical, Mystery
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
So far I've loved every book I've read by Laura E. Weymouth and I'm going to prioritize those lingering on my to-read pile. Weymouth has a way of writing about relationships and obsessions of various kinds which clearly appeals to me, and this time it's an obsession with privacy, appearance, and secrets, which are perfect undergirding for a mystery.
I love Wil and Ed’s friendship/relationship. They fit together really well as people and as friends, though for a long time they haven't been along to spend long periods of time in one another's company. When Wil starts working on Ed's estate, the change in proximity means that there are many necessary changes to their dynamic, not all of which are handled gracefully by the characters. Given that they are teenage protagonists, I like the way they’re given the narrative space to each mess up and then figure out how to put things right with each other. One of the immediate changes to their previous easy friendship is that Ed had always hidden from Will how much he was dismissed and bullied at home, treated like an afterthought within his family. Even once she’s there, it takes a long time for him to share with her the way he’s being plagued by a ghost he's convinced is his dead elder brother. This reticence is completely completely understandable, but I kept wanting him to just ask her for help because she’s able to talk to ghosts, even if they’re not able to always give coherent answers. As much as I occasionally chafed at the pacing, it took the time that it needed and I’m very pleased with how the story turned out.
This is a genuinely suspenseful and creepy mystery, the answers (once given) completely make sense and fit what was shown earlier. Though I started to suspect some parts before all was revealed, I definitely didn’t guess the whole solution. I spent a while thinking that it didn’t make sense for certain people to be keeping the secrets that I could tell were there, because it felt a little bit like they were only being secretive because it was necessary for the plot, but I was incorrect. When I did finally get answers, everything everyone had done that didn’t make any sense suddenly made sense and it was great! Narratively, at least, I love the story. The end involves a bunch of distressing revelations and violence, which was less than ideal for those involved.
Graphic/Explicit CW for classism, death.
Moderate CW for sexism, ableism, bullying, gaslighting, emotional abuse, physical abuse, child abuse, blood, violence, confinement, forced institutionalization, alcohol, alcoholism, mental illness, grief, war, torture, child death, parental death.
Minor CW for sexual content, sexual harassment, incest, rape, sexual assault, miscarriage, suicide