I enjoyed this book a lot. I read it in one sitting. Our heroine is an orphan named Maud. We meet her singing a battle anthem in the outhouse. She'd been unruly all day and infuriating her teachers. We are introduced right away to the fact that Maud is honest with herself. She admits when she's been bad or frustrating to the teachers. This characteristic sticks with the main character throughout the book.
She's no saint but she's honest to herself and to the reader. When she is dishonest though from her desperate desire to be loved we still get glimpses into their real characters and from a characters actual age appropriate view. It was refreshing to read from a non precocious lead despite her being quite well read for her age. She is no little Lord Fauntleroy.
Maud is also no unreliable narrator. Everything unfolds realistically the way people in real life might reveal their true nature. We want to see the best in people. The heart of this book is that lonely people are particularly open to being preyed upon by sharks for their trustfulness and desire to be loved. The villain in this store is quite a real figure.
Maud is not only an orphan but has the added pain that her two siblings were adopted together without her. Her brother was useful at chores and her younger sister is pretty.
Maud is always told at the orphanage that she is plain, bad and dumb.
She is quite the contrary of course but no one encourages her good traits such as creativity and resourcefulness until Hyacinth comes along.
This book reminds me a wee bit of Iva Ibbotson's Star of Kazaam except that our heroine is more honest that not all people are good. She even remarks early on in the book adults unwillingness to ever side with a child against another grownup.
Good people don't have to be walked on all the time. Mrs. Hampton is still more generous than the Hawthorne sisters might deserve but she's no carpet rug to be walked on either.