I was really excited about this book. I love fairies. I love hoaxes. I love fervent childhood friendships that border on the unsettling. And perhaps most of all, I love narrative nonfiction.
Here's a little confession: I'm not so good at reading straight nonfiction. Never have been. I promise you that most of what I know about European history comes from Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, and Charles Dickens. So when I saw that this book was laid out like a novel, I expected to be both informed and entertained (which is, I believe, my birthright as an American - thank you, Jon Stewart!).
I was disappointed. Maybe I've grown too accustomed to the "lead with the cliffhanger" style, as in Amelia Lost, but the straight chronological organization of the book kind of killed the suspense. The reader knows from the outset exactly how the photos are faked.
The notes at the end indicate the author's meticulous research, but I don't think the narrative form showcases that very well either. It would be difficult for a child reader to tell which details are partially imagined and which are taken from primary sources. For example, Losure describes in detail how Frances felt about her first glimpse of England, but credits no one source for this information. On the other hand, her description of Elsie's "wide beaming smile" is a direct quote.
I was even more troubled by the layout. For a book so heavily dependent on its visual elements, I thought the photographs were sloppily placed, often appearing nowhere near the text describing them. Unless I'm very confused (always a possibility), one photo of Elsie shows up an entire chapter too early.
Losure does do a very good job of characterizing Elsie and Frances sympathetically but honestly, and of explaining the historical circumstances that could allow them to perpetuate a hoax on this grand a scale. I'd put this in my library's collection, and I'd probably even booktalk it. But I wouldn't recommend it for an award.