Ever since I published A Girl with A Knife, I wondered what the readers liked the most about my book. Did they have a favorite part? A beloved character? Did the story surprise them, move them, made them care? And what I really wanted to know was … did anyone notice some subtle things I threw in. The foreshadowing in the beginning. The clues to an important twist in the end. If you haven’t read the book to the last page, you may want to stop reading this post now. I’m about to give spoilers so you could tell me what you’ve noticed. Maybe you’ll even want to reread some parts.
Please let me know what you’ve noticed and what you’ve missed. Maybe you even noticed something I didn’t list or wondered about something else. Please comment on the post, connect with me on Facebook, or send me an email at email@example.com
In chapter 1, Ella asks the embroidery circle ladies to stage a Shakespeare play together. The play she proposes is Twelfth Night. Why not Midsummer Night’s Dream or another comedy? Please tell me someone got this one. I read the play and watched the televised version just to add that one line. The answer: foreshadowing. Twelfth Night has a female character disguising herself as a man. A few chapters later, Ella becomes Alan Parker.
Also in chapter 1, same scene. Henrietta's favorite line in Hamlet is Polonius advising his son, who is going off to the university: “To thine own self be true.” Why? The answer: Lesson of the book. The most important lesson Ella learns is to be true to herself. But she doesn’t take the advice in Chapter 1, of course. Like Laertes, she goes off to the university. I don’t remember if Laertes took his father’s advice, but Ella took on a disguise… Well, it’s for a good reason, right? And she does well for a while. But no secret stays hidden forever. When Ella becomes true to herself, she becomes a powerful trailblazer I’m so proud of.
After her mother's passing, Eloise/Ella develops a habit of lying. What are some of the lies she tells?
- Pretending to the embroidery circle ladies that all is fine with her
- Lying about going to a new church
- Lying to the doctor about how she received the cut on her neck
- Writing lies in the recommendation letter for her maid
- Lying to Mr. Lewis that she will go to Cornwall to stay with her friends
- Writing her own recommendation letter
- Lying to Dr. Pesce about how she received her bruises and stitches
- Lying to the seamen that she needs to return something to the doctor
- Lying to the doctor that she fixed a dog's broken paw
There’s probably more. Most of these lies seem harmless, but when you add them up, Ella doesn’t look so good. Maybe you didn’t even like her at first. But I hope you admired her in chapter 2, when she insisted on holding the patient’s hand during the amputation. Does she become truthful after that? No. She gets herself ready for an even bigger lie. Not every girl could day after day bind her breasts and disguise her voice, but Ella manages.
Ella’s lies make her look somewhat childish. I had to balance them with her intelligence to show that she would do well in the university. She’s only fifteen after all. Did you believe that she would succeed in her learning? This is what I planted:
· She mentions her tutors were impressed with her
· She continues to read and study on her own
· She wants to talk about politics
· Mr. Lewis reminds her that she received an excellent education
· She tells the doctor she's fluent in French
Again, not a full list, but I sprinkled clues about her curiosity and intelligence where I could
One of the big twists at the end of the book is Oli’s revelation that his name is David Fridman and he’s Jewish. He had to hide under a Christian name to enter the university. Dr. Miller and William Jeffers guessed his secret and treated him poorly. Did you see any subtle clues that Oli is Jewish (or at least that he hides his own secret?)
· At church, he stays at the back, and only comes when required
· In the scene where Oli and Ella meet, Jeffers calls Oli by a word Ella doesn’t recognize. I meant it to be a derogatory word for a Jew
· Jeffers throws a note to Oli, and Oli begs Ella not to read it
· In another class scene, Oli wipes something written on his desk
· He didn't want Ella to meet his family
· He didn't think of getting Ella a Christmas present
· When he brought fruit cake from his sister, he said it was the first time she made it. I imagine she normally makes Hanukkah deserts.
· He brings up the subject of abortion in class. In Judaism, abortion is discouraged, but not to the same degree as in Christianity. If there's a danger to the mother's life, including mental health, abortion is recommended (or even required) in those cases.
· When discussing abortion with Ella, he asks "What if the patient doesn't believe in Church's teaching?
Did Dr. Miller desire Alan (Ella’s male disguise) sexually?
Maybe. When I read him say, “I much admired Alan Parker,” the way that line sounded in my head gave me an idea that he had sexual desire for his student. Dr. Miller could not be openly gay in his time. Alan was his student and only seventeen. I wonder, however, if the professor had hopes for their future. Perhaps that’s why he gave Alan so many advantages. I dropped hints about him wanting private lessons with Alan. In her letter to Matilda, Ella writes that the way Dr. Miller stares at her makes her think he knows something. When Ella reveals her secret, however, Dr. Miller is furious. His admiration was for “Alan” only.
Ella sees her old self in her patient, Amelia.
Ella notices how spoiled and ungrateful Amelia is and remembers herself and her friends behaving similarly. In my first draft, I took likeness further. I made Amelia’s father violent, like Ella’s father. In the Christmas chapter, Amelia is brought to the hospital with her throat cut; her father is the alleged murderer. Ella realizes that could’ve been her fate had she remained home with her father. The scene came out gruesome and gory, not a nice Christmas chapter. Instead, Amelia falls ill with consumption, and Ella convinces Mrs. Hearts to take her daughter home. I’ve heard from a couple of readers that Amelia’s reunion with her mother was one of their favorite scenes. I’m glad I’ve changed her story.
Readers've asked me if any of my characters are based on people in my life. No. I've borrowed names but not personalities. Ella and I, however, share losses. Like Ella, I lost my mother when I was fourteen. My mom lost a pregnancy, so like Ella, I mourn a brother or sister that was never born. When Ella was ready to give up, her mother’s letter inspired her to fight. Despite being gone so long, my mom still inspires me as well.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Please get screened.