By Eva Ibbotson. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Discovered from olmue's blog.
Re-reading her review, I'm struck at the Little Princess comparison: it reminded me of that book too. It also struck me as a good book to read aloud. The language is a bit simple (it was in the children's section) but the sentences are definitely manageable. It's also quite a quick read despite being 400 pages.
Best of all, it's a sweet story. (It really is a lot like The Little Princess.) It's also exciting approaching the end: there is real danger involved, although it still seems realistic. (Not everything that could possibly go wrong does, unlike in some books.)
Perhaps I should mention some more detail. Annika is a foundling at the beginning of the 20th century. She is adopted by the two servants in a house in Vienna owned by two brothers and a sister who are professors (of geology, art history and music.) She grows up serving but not unwillingly; the whole city loves her, including the professors. At least, that's what it seems like—there are several places where the narration describes various otherwise unknown people asking what happened to her or hearing that she's back and so on. Then the aristocratic mother she's dreamed of for so long shows up... Annika discovers that aristocrats eat turnip jam and live in leaky houses and don't wear galoshes to show that they're tougher than common mortals. At least, that's her interpretation of the situation. Her friends from Vienna eventually get into gear and save her.
Should I be critical now? At a certain point in the plot, the narration switches back to Annika's friends in Vienna, implying that some time has passed. It seems a little bit sudden since up to then we've seen almost everything as it happens to Annika. The language is simple and clear but somewhat pedantic in places: several times words are defined right after they're used.
Besides the sweet story (I've used that word way too many times), there are humorous moments where I laughed out loud. The story isn't funny the whole way through, but Ibbotson does a good job lightening up heavy moments.
I want to go read The Little Princess now.
Also: new label! Apparently things shelved in the children's section are not "juvenile", they're "middle grade." Or something. This distinction may be too fine for me. (I'm nearsighted, didn't you know?) The important part is that this book is clean. (It's shocking what you can find under "young adult" these days.)