Monday, January 11, 2016

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century

Miller, S. (2016). The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century. NY: Schwartz & Wade.

Middle Grade / History / True Crime

I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars

Publisher's Blurb: Here’s middle-grade nonfiction that reads like a thriller. With murder, court battles, and sensational newspaper headlines, the story of Lizzie Borden is compulsively readable and perfect for the Common Core. 

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks.  
 When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

In a compelling, linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a gripping portrait of a woman and a town emerges.

With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings—and, yes, images from the murder scene—readers will devour this nonfiction book that reads like fiction.

Image from author's website
The Borden Murders is a very well researched, well written, balanced look at the actual murders and whether or not Lizzie Borden committed them.  Aimed at middle grade readers, there is sufficient gore to keep them interested without going overboard or getting sensational.  However, it does provide an excellent example of journalistic sensationalism and shows what reporters and publications got away with in those times. It may remind readers a bit of modern politics, where media outlets embellish the facts and know full well that even if they are corrected, people will remember the initial false claims.  

Lizzie is an interesting person based on observation, but there doesn't seem to be any record of who she was. Cold and calculating? Strong and misunderstood? A combination of those and other characteristics? Readers aren't given information to push them one way or the other as to whether or not Lizzie was guilty.

The book is written appropriately towards the middle grade level and will appeal to reluctant readers.  Information boxes break-up the text and explain legal terminology, fashions, customs, and trends of the times, plus give readers an idea of money in today's terms. Pictures add an element of interest but might have been better spread out throughout the book instead of consolidated (and the Borden House blueprint needs a page to itself for easier perusal). Also appealing to the target audience is the brevity of the book; though it is advertised as 304 pages, the last quarter or so of the book is filled with author notes and attributions. 

I would recommend a print copy because readers will want to flip back to diagrams and pictures as things come up in the trial, and print makes that easier.  Also, there were some confusing parts that I read and re-read and sometimes didn't understand. The hatchet part was clearly supposed to be a big revelation, but I didn't see the big reveal. And I really tried.

Overall, The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century is interesting, but not riveting. I kept waiting to really get sucked in, but mostly I didn't. I definitely was turning pages, but I didn't ever get enough information -- this is not the fault of the author -- there just isn't enough out there, really, and Miller did an outstanding job with the material she had. It is clear that the jurors made the right call to find Lizzie not guilty -- there just wasn't anything tangible to connect her to the murders. But was she innocent? That will never be known.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an ebook ARC in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give. 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: My friends would tell you I'm quirky, slightly obsessive, and rather irreverent. I majored in linguistics, minored in Russian, and was the undisputed fingerspelling champ in my ASL classes. I can also read Braille -- very, VERY slowly. A few of the things I like best: opera, sushi, daffodils, Walt Disney World, Eleanor Roosevelt, Chuao dark chocolate, I Love Lucy, Jeopardy, the Titanic, Bette Davis movies, and goofy socks. Connect with the author:


No comments:

Post a Comment