The Magnetic Girl (Hardcover)
I was already impressed with Jessica Handler after reading Invisible Sisters: A Memoir, and Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing about Grief and Loss. Now I add fiction to the list of writing she does exceptionally well. Her new novel, The Magnetic Girl (Hub City Press $27), tells the story of an ungainly girl, Lulu Hurst, who starts using mind control (should I put this in quotes?), and goes on to physically conduct electricity—a new and mysterious invention—to wow her family. Seeing an opportunity for profit, her father sends Lulu up and down the east coast as The Magnetic Girl. Lulu has a beloved and disabled younger brother, Leo. While on tour, she studies a book she found on her father’s bookshelf entitled, The Truth of Mesmeric Influence. In her mind, the lines between reality and imagination start to blur, and Lulu begins to believe that she may be able to heal her brother. Based on a true story, The Magnetic Girl draws on our superstitions, fears and hopes. The novel has been compared to The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.— Mamie
April 2019 Indie Next List
“We’ve known that Jessica Handler could write the heck out of a sentence since her moving account of surviving the deaths of her sisters in her memoir, Invisible Sisters. What we didn’t yet fully understand is the way that her nonfiction would prepare her so uniquely to write this strange and lovely book about a girl coming into her power — a feminist historical novel of grit and mystery. Handler knows from her own life that the flip side of grief and loss can sometimes be wonder and awe. What a pleasure to have her take us by the hand and show us that truth in the life of Lulu Hurst, who becomes a vaudeville star with ‘magical’ powers but yearns most to heal her little brother back at home.”
— Errol Anderson, Charis Books & More, Atlanta, GA
Winter 2020 Reading Group Indie Next List
“In the late 1800s, vaudeville acts were often beyond audiences’ wildest dreams. Enter Lulu Hurst, ‘The Magnetic Girl,’ who sends men stumbling across stages with her electrical touch. Tension builds with each packed theatre up and down the East Coast as Lulu discovers her true strength. Handler takes an already-fascinating historical figure and illuminates her life.”
— Lorrie Anderson, NeverMore Books, Beaufort, SC
Wall Street Journal's Ten Books You'll Want to Read This Spring Indie Next Pick, April 2019 Spring Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
In rural north Georgia two decades after the Civil War, thirteen-year-old Lulu Hurst reaches high into her father's bookshelf and pulls out an obscure book, The Truth of Mesmeric Influence. Deemed gangly and undesirable, Lulu wants more than a lifetime of caring for her disabled baby brother, Leo, with whom she shares a profound and supernatural mental connection.
"I only wanted to be Lulu Hurst, the girl who captivated her brother until he could walk and talk and stand tall on his own. Then I would be the girl who could leave."
Lulu begins to "captivate" her friends and family, controlling their thoughts and actions for brief moments at a time. After Lulu convinces a cousin she conducts electricity with her touch, her father sees a unique opportunity. He grooms his tall and indelicate daughter into an electrifying new woman: The Magnetic Girl. Lulu travels the Eastern seaboard, captivating enthusiastic crowds by lifting grown men in parlor chairs and throwing them across the stage with her "electrical charge."
While adjusting to life on the vaudeville stage, Lulu harbors a secret belief that she can use her newfound gifts, as well as her growing notoriety, to heal her brother. As she delves into the mysterious book's pages, she discovers keys to her father's past and her own future--but how will she harness its secrets to heal her family?
Gorgeously envisioned, The Magnetic Girl is set at a time when the emerging presence of electricity raised suspicions about the other-worldly gospel of Spiritualism, and when women's desire for political, cultural, and sexual presence electrified the country. Squarely in the realm of Emma Donoghue's The Wonder and Leslie Parry's Church of Marvels, The Magnetic Girl is a unique portrait of a forgotten period in history, seen through the story of one young woman's power over her family, her community, and ultimately, herself.
About the Author
Jessica Handler is the author of Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Invisible Sisters: A Memoir, which was named one of the "Twenty Five Books All Georgians Should Read" and Atlanta magazine's "Best Memoir of 2009." Jessica writes essays and nonfiction features that have appeared on NPR, in Tin House, Drunken Boat, Full Grown People, Brevity, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and More Magazine.