The Finding is a beautifully written historical novel set in nineteenth century Isle of Wight. It is told through the eyes of Esther and Tom in alternating chapters. Esther is thirteen and crippled, following an infant illness. She has never been to school and is kept hidden at home by her ignorant family, and away from the stares of her superstitious community. Her only joy is her beloved baby sister, whom she will do anything for. Esther is wilful and determined, and yearns to be independent and not simply just another ‘mouth to feed’. Tom is fifteen and the son of the local curate. He is sensitive and kind-hearted, and a talented and aspiring artist. Both Esther and Tom are saddled with a burden. For Esther, it is being crippled; and for Tom, it is his parents’ expectations for his future career as a clergyman. They are brought together at the beginning of the story, when Tom finds Esther crawling up a hill to rescue her beloved baby sister from the clutches of ‘the Witch’. ‘The Witch’ is Julia Margaret Cameron, the pioneering British photographer, who wants merely to photograph the baby.
Meg Campbell cleverly interweaves the pre-Raphaelite circle of Mrs Cameron’s friends into the story, Alfred Tennyson, George Watts and Edward Lear. Esther becomes a muse for Mrs Cameron’s photography, and Mr Watts’ portraits. Later, they take her to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital to try and strengthen her legs so that she may walk again. Tom becomes friends with the confident Henry, Mrs Cameron’s son, and the gentle Tennyson boys. Both Esther and Tom benefit from the enlightened acceptance of Mrs Cameron and her circle, which sets them on their respective paths to finding their place in the world.
Meg Campbell has a gift for storytelling. It is gentle and insightful, and at times humorous. This book will appeal to children with a love of historical fiction, but is equally a simple and compelling enough narrative for those unaccustomed to this genre. It could also be a great springboard for teaching related to English art, history and culture from this exciting time.
by Colleen Holland