Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Molly Shipton, Secret Actress by Sheri Graubert is a middle-grade historical story set in 16th-century England. Young Molly Shipton's life was peaceful and happy. However, when the deadly plague strikes, her parents perish and most of the villagers die. Molly must flee with her sister Juliet, while her brother Ben is presumed dead. Disguised as boys, they play music on the streets to earn money. After hiding in a secret area of the Duke's house, they are discovered and brought before the Duke. To their surprise, he offers them food, shelter, and forgiveness if they perform for his guests. The Duke gives them an incredible opportunity to stay at his castle as musicians. Molly dreams of going to London to perform, and when an offer is made, she accepts, unaware of what the capital city has in store for her.
Molly Shipton, Secret Actress is a fun chapter book that brings the 1590s to life through the eyes, imagination, and perseverance of a girl and her little sister who really have nothing left to lose. Sheri Graubert does well in balancing the realities of the time with regard to living conditions and the social system that was both systemic and crushing, and making these age appropriate and palatable to youthful readers who aren't going to be ready for all the conversations a buffet of sorrow would require. In short, I loved this book, and so did my tween. If I have one complaint it is when Juliet is speaking honestly with Molly about what she misses about being a girl in public, being discounted as superficial longing until it is attributed to their father. Like, it's ok that Juliet wants to wear a dress and spin it, no strings attached! Still, I loved the girls, found their grit refreshing, and, quite literally for the time, revolutionary. Their interactions with some of the period's most famous people are wonderful and, overall, this is a five-star read. Very highly recommended.