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Check It Out: When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O’Neill

This is Michael Maxwell with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out.

Today, I am recommending When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O'Neill.

When We Lost Our Heads is a wicked confection of a novel that is perfect for adult readers who enjoyed reading Lemony Snicket when they were younger. Set in Victorian-era Montreal, this story stars two conniving, Machiavellian little girls- Marie and Sadie- as they grow up into scheming and dastardly adult women. Their relationship is a love story of sorts- filled to the brim with pettiness and wrongdoing. Marie is the heiress to a sugar factory and daughter of the wealthiest man in Montreal, while Sadie comes from a social-climbing household of politicians. Marie is blonde and popular; Sadie is dark-haired and macabre. Their differences are complimentary, and their lives push and pull at one another in an often-disastrous manner.

Heather O’Neill delights in the vulgarity and depravity of Victorian life, filling When We Lost Our Heads with titillation, revulsion, and all kinds of memorable metaphors. Her writing reminded me of John Waters and his dedication to making art from filth, but with a voice that feels distinct and new. Although this story is chock-full of ugliness- it's often quite beautiful. You’ll read about gorgeous gowns and extravagant cakes as much as you will read about little girls losing fingers and having duels. This contrast between beauty and beastliness colors the whole story. However, they aren’t the only two characters with tricks up their sleeves, and part of the fun is watching their plans brush up against a gallery of equally determined side characters who certainly stir the pot.

Check Out When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O’Neill available at the Sioux City Public Library.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Verde Outdoor Media.

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