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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cajun Ghost Story A Warm, Enchanting Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's bad enough that Shelby's dad took a job in another country, but with her grandma in the hospital, Shelby's now forced to live with her mother. Which maybe wouldn't be so bad if: (1) Mirage Allemond hadn't left Shelby and her dad a year ago, (2) She didn't live out in the middle of a gator-infested bayou, and (3) She wasn't a swamp witch. As soon as 11-year-old Shelby arrives in tiny Bayou Bridge, Louisiana, she wants out, a feeling that grows stronger with each passing hour. Allemond's little bayou house creeps Shelby out and the huge blue bottle tree in the backyard seems almost alive. To make matters worse, Shelby feels like she's living with a stranger - a very strange stranger. The kids at school make fun of Shelby, laugh at her mother, and try to trick Shelby into playing a very dangerous game.

Miserable with this new twist in her life, Shelby's ecstatic when she finally makes a friend. True, Gwen's a little odd. She hangs around the town cemetery, doesn't go to school, and says her family left her behind when they moved to New Orleans. Shelby can't make any sense of the girl, but she still likes being with her. Then, things start to get weird. Shelby spies a girl she thinks is Gwen stalking around the bayou at night, she finds a series of mysterious messages left in her mother's blue bottle tree and she realizes that Gwen knows things, things that could explain the profound sadness Allemond carries with her. In spite of herself, Shelby gets caught up in the eerie magic of the bayou, where the secrets of her mother's past still haunt the swampy waterways. As Shelby struggles to understand, she learns some powerful lessons about faith, family and, ultimately, forgiveness.

With colorful bayou settings, rich in wonder and magic, Kimberley Griffiths Little brings her poignant family stories to vivid life. Her debut, The Healing Spell, touched my heart, but her newest engaged both my ticker and my imagination and, really, there's nothing I like better in a book. Just in time for Halloween, Circle of Secrets is a Cajun ghost story that's spooky enough to send delicous little shivers down the spine, but not scary enough to cause nightmares. In fact, it's the perfect blend of natural terrors (gators, bullies, abandonment) and supernatural frights (ghosts, bumps in the night, etc.), which combine to make this a shivery, atmospheric read. Mostly, though, it's a warm, enchanting story about a young girl coming to terms with her imperfect family and, of course, herself. In case you can't tell, I loved it.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little and Ruined by Paula Morris)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some intense scenes

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Circle of Secrets from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

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