Release date: 30th November 2009 UK
Genre: Historical fiction
Target audience: 12+
When Picky's Mum forces her to look after Gran, who has dementia, Picky is accidentally transported back to the year 1685, where a man in a wig insists she is someone called Amelia and tries to kill her. Managing to get the dress off just in time, Picky returns to the present with the dress covered in blood. Who is Amelia? Is she dead? Will wearing the other dresses in the chest take Picky back in time too? And does she dare put herself in danger again?
As a rule, I do not read novels that involve time travel. I prefer novels to be set fully in the historical period that the author wishes to explore. I have no idea where this prejudice emerged from but it is part of my identity as a reader. However, having just finished The Dresskeeper I have had my foolish dislike of this device eradicated. Naylus uses the time travel device expertly and it allows her to have her very contemporary protagonist explore 17th century London. Picky Robson was a convincing teenager whose comical voice hooked me in from the very first chapter. Penelope - known as Picky by her family - has a painfully negative body image and an amusing take on the world around her. She dislikes the vain and shallow Demon Worshippers at school but like the other students, she does not have the courage to stand up to them. The bullying she faces is treated with care and humour by Naylus.
I really liked the fact that Picky was a teenage carer, looking after her Grandma on weekends. I'm sure young people in similar postitions of responsibility will relate to Picky's frustration, resentment and guilty feelings concerning her role as a carer. This is by no means a heavy novel although it explores important issues in the life of its narrator. Picky tells the story in such an amusing way that I often chuckled at her particular world view. As a School Librarian myself, I was tickled by Picky's suspicion that Mrs Hamperton spent her weekends cataloguing her underwear drawer. I had to laugh out loud.
The historical landscape of 17th century London is charmingly described with all Picky's usual eloquence as having "crap in the streets". The appalling living conditions of the poor, small pox, the issue of the slave trade and arranged marriages are all woven into a riveting narrative. Picky is a determined heroine who is out to save the life of her 17th century alter-ego, Amelia. She is certainly not Sherlock Holmes but perseveres admirably.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. The characterisation of Picky is superb and the novel moves at a great pace. The plot is interesting and the mystery of the murderer kept me guessing until the very end. The modern voice will appeal to fans of authors like Meg Cabot. The beautiful dresses and depiction of 17th century London will appeal to fans of historical fiction. The Dressmaker is thoroughly entertainly, enthralling and amusing. I really enjoyed reading it and am impressed by the quality Naylus's first novel.