Wall Street Journal's Ten Books You'll Want to Read This SpringIndie Next Pick, April 2019Spring 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.
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.
Wall Street Journal's Ten Books You'll Want to Read This SpringIndie Next Pick, April 2019 "Handler captures the ambivalence of female adolescence, where the newfound ability to captivate others exists in unsteady balance with the fear of loss of independence. A thoroughly fresh historical novel that both captures the essence of its time and echoes challenges that still exist today." --Kirkus Reviews, STARRED Review "This is a story that gets at the core of what it's like to be alive, honing in on modern day feminist anxieties through the lens of a distant time when electricity was glamorous instead of merely a technological afterthought. Handler provides a touching look at how human desire doesn't always equal what is right, and the result is an astonishing tale that does not pander or falter, but crackles with magic."--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Author Jessica Handler paints a quaint picture of life in the late 19th century, when electricity was a new phenomenon. Lulu begins as a young woman used to obeying her parents, but through her performances, she begins to see her parents and their shortcomings more clearly. The Magnetic Girl is hypnotic tale about a girl growing into a woman and discovering the truth of her own powers."--BookPage "Lulu's is a story on the precipice: of scientific discovery, of cultural evolution, and of increased autonomy for women. As a daughter of this dawning new world, Lulu captivates her way toward dismaying realizations, deadly conundrums, and new freedoms. Beyond its sleight of hand, The Magnetic Girl is a vintage tale about learning to harness your singular powers." --Foreword Reviews "Like the powers of Lulu Hurst, Jessica Handler's literary power feels like a sleight of hand. It's impossible that a novel can be this beautiful, this haunting, and this resonant, but your eyes (and your heart) are not deceiving you. The Magnetic Girl is a gorgeous, brutal book: a strange alchemy of love, fear, fate, and hope."--Wiley Cash, New York Times Bestselling author of The Last Ballad "Jessica Handler brings history to glorious life in a captivating tale anchored by masterful writing, especially the vivid, unique voice she gives to Lulu Hurst. With deft pacing that kept me turning pages long into the night, Handler lights up Lulu's fascinating trajectory into a strange kind of stardom and beyond. The world sees Lulu, a natural mesmerist, as a person with mystical talents, but at its heart, this is the story of a young woman stepping boldly and at last into her true powers. The Magnetic Girl is something special. Don't miss it."--Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of Gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters "The Magnetic Girl is a compassionate, clear-eyed coming-of-age tale unlike anything I've read. The story belongs to Lulu Hurst, but Handler is the one doing the true mesmerizing. What a unique, accomplished debut!"--Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times Bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald "A heartwarming tale of the sacrifices we make for family, the delusions we fall for in the name of love, and the human need to keep on dreaming despite it all. Mesmerizing."--Thomas Mullen, author of Darktown