My love of ghost stories goes way back. Mary Downing Hahn, Christopher Pike, Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders*- I could go on. You would think ghost stories would be a dime a dozen, but finding the right blend of suspense and atmosphere is difficult, judging from the number of lacklustre ghost stories out there. So after reading bookshelves of doom’s review of Shadowed Summer, I ordered myself a copy pronto. Afterall, it’s ghost story season- oppressive heat, moody weather, thunderstorms- bring on the chills and thrills.
Iris lives in a town too small for a movie theatre, steeped in spiritualism, gossip, and secrets. On a day that starts off like any other, she finds herself hanging around the cemetarywith her best friend Collette, waiting for something exciting to happen. And then it does. She hears a voice, a male voice, whisper, “Where y’at, Iris?” There is no one but Collette around. This time, the ghost is real. Iris is convinced that the voice belongs to the ghost of Elijah Landry, a boy who disappeared years ago. A boy who just happened to be Iris’ father’s best friend. As Iris, Collette, and Collette’s new crush Ben investigate further into the life and disappearance of Elijah, they discover shocking truths about their sleepy community of Ondine, and the lengths people will go to in order to keep a secret.
I read this book in one night. It’s suspenseful, full of foreboding, and cracks along at a break-neck pace. It has everything I want in a ghost story and more, particularly in terms of Iris’ narrative voice and the relationships between the characters. Iris’ narrative voice is captivating and authentic. A thick-as -molasses Southern drawl is written right into the cadence of her speech.
I like the tension between Collette and Iris. The story takes place at that moment where they are transitioning from playing magic and make-believe to liking boys. Collette appears to be making this transition more quickly and a lot smoother than Iris, which adds a nice layer of emotional realism to the story, so it becomes something meatier than “just” a ghost story.
This book fits into the category of Southern Gothic, a uniquely American style that uses elements of the supernatural to explore the cultural character of the Southern US. The combination of a Southern setting and a ghost story reminded me a little of The Skeleton Key, which is a movie I quite enjoyed, despite lukewarm reviews. All in all, this is an A+ read, but perhaps not for the jumpy sort. You can bet I will be looking out for what Saundra Mitchell has to offer in the future. A perfect spooky read for a stormy night.
Shadowed Summer is available now from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
* The Doll House Murders and Christopher Pike’s Fall Into Darkness (Jonathan Brandis and Tatiana Ali-remember when she had a music career? Yeah, me neither) were turned into TV movies. Unfortunately, the only thing scary about them is the hair.