Dear Ms. Mitchell,
It’s been a while since I read a Southern gothic, young adult or not. In fact, I think the last novel I read in this subgenre was Cherie Priest’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds and that came out a few years ago. For some reason, it’s just not a genre I often read in so I was glad to have the opportunity to give your novel a try.
Iris lives in Ondine, a small Louisiana town where nothing happens. She’s expecting just another lazy, hot summer spent with her longtime best friend, Colette. Granted, by spending time together, we mean casting spells and summoning ghosts in the cemetery. Nevertheless, it’s all fun and games and make believe, until one day something answers back and whispers in Iris’s ear.
Even though Iris’s small town is a place where nothing ever happens, we all know that’s never actually the case. Every place has a history and at least one dirty secret. In Ondine’s case, a boy named Elijah Landry disappeared. No one knows if he ran away, died, or was murdered, but Iris is determined to find out because she thinks the ghost Colette and she accidentally summored is his restless spirit.
The atmosphere is easily the best part of this novel. Not only did I get a strong sense of a lazy, hot Southern summer, some of the scenes with Elijah’s ghost were downright creepy. I’ve watched more than my share of paranormal shows so when strange things started happening in Iris’s room, I knew something — or someone — had decided to follow her home.
Speaking of the paranormal, I nearly groaned when Iris and Colette whipped out the Ouija board. It was like reading a handbook for what they say not to do when dealing with ghosts. Just like popular belief says, things started going downhill not long after they contacted Elijah with it. I do admit, though, it was fun to see the escalation of supernatural things happen in relation to the things Iris and Colette did — things many so-called paranormal experts say not to do. On the other hand, I suppose they weren’t trying to get rid of Elijah so maybe they weren’t doing the “wrong” things.
The friendship between Iris and Colette was also well portrayed. Even though I wanted to smack Colette sometimes, it was very real, following the maturation of two girls from childhood into adolescence. Like in real life, their friendship was undergoing growning pains, as both girls changed. Iris still wanted to hold onto their childhood with their spells and make believe, but Colette would rather flirt with local boy, Ben. I suspected Ben’s true feelings early on, but I liked how Iris struggled between her jealousy. It’s not the type of jealousy you’d typically expect in a novel featuring teen girls. Typically, we’d see Iris fighting with Colette over Ben. Instead, we see Iris resenting Ben taking Colette’s attention away from her. I did enjoy how she realized that Ben wasn’t bad guy and that maybe, if he hadn’t taken her best friend away from her, she might have liked him. I found that aspect very real.
As with any small town, there are many secrets and they all revolve around the circumstances leading to Elijah’s disappearance. I liked seeing how Iris, Colette, and Ben tried to find the answers to those questions in the face of the town’s reticence. There certainly are some interesting residents in Ondine. In the end, though, I was let down by the truth because it seemed a bit cliché for my tastes.
At a slim 180 pages, this was a very quick read. Part of me wonders if I would have liked it more if it had been longer. Some of the revelations and plot elements struck me as slightly superficial, so I think I would have preferred more delving. That said, I did like the atmosphere and the way Iris, Colette and Ben showed how you could get caught up in supernatural play, blurring the line between true supernatural events and things that you brought on yourself through an overactive imagination. If only some of the people we see on shows like Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted could learn that lesson. C