Shadowed Summer, by Saundra Mitchell
Iris Rhame is fourteen. Her best friend has gone a little bit boy crazy, but other than that, this summer in Ondine, Louisiana is exactly like the last one and every one before that—really hot and really boring.
Until a ghost speaks to her. And she knows that she has a mystery to solve. Not just because she wants to, but because she has to.
Okay, I know that someone out there is thinking it, so it needs to be mentioned. The cover art. Yes, it really almost scared me off—because, wow. It looks pretty cheesy. But sometimes I like the cheese, so I gave it a try anyway. And guess what? I am IN LOVE with this book. I even read under the covers with a flashlight* to finish it. No joke.
Other than that at one point Iris wears a red shirt, the cover doesn't fit the book. For one, in my mind, Iris doesn't look remotely like that. And what is the expression on the girl's face? Fear? Curiosity? Maybe that's what they were going for**, but she just looks strangely blank to me. And Iris is anything but blank. (She is, in fact, awesome.)
More importantly than that, Shadowed Summer doesn't contain even the teeniest dollop of cheese. It's a genuinely creepy ghost story, as well as a coming-of-age story. And it's also about how relationships between best friends can change, about a single father who works third shift and is raising a daughter and about life in a very small town.
I marked tons of pages—possible excerpts to share and bits I just plain liked*** and bits where I had Big Thoughts. This bit, for me, highlighted the small-town aspect of the story—that it's not easy to get away with much when everyone knows everyone. I loved that the adults weren't absent in this book, as they so often are in mystery/adventure stories:
The trooper smoothed the paper in his hand and held it out to me. "We found this; maybe you recognize that handwriting?"
Glancing over the note, I almost threw up in my lap. I recognized the tiny block letters, and I recognized the message, too.
Where y'at, Iris?
I didn't need my hands to cool my face anymore, but what could I say? "Yessir, I know who wrote that—Elijah Landry did. A dead boy I raised up on accident is stalking me. No, sir, I do not need a straitjacket, thank you."
Rasping apologetically, I said, "I don't know it. I'm sorry."
It's the kind of book that feels like summer, all slow in that don't-move-too-fast-or-you'll-sweat-all-over-yourself way, and while, thinking back, I realize that there really was quite a bit of action, what with the haunting and the seance and the investigation into the past and the sneaking out of the house and all, it didn't feel like there was a lot of action while I was reading. Despite that hot and sometimes drowsy feel, there was never a moment where I lost interest. If anything, my interest—and my tension—grew and grew as I read.
And the writing is TIGHT. There's a lot in this book, and it's only 180 pages long. Which, in the age of Bloaty-McBloaterson books, is both a treat and a relief to read as well as being a really, really impressive piece of writing. So thank you for everything about this book, Saundra Mitchell. I'm looking forward to whatever you've got next.
*I didn't want to get up because a) I'm lazy and b) it was chilly but I didn't want to wake Josh by turning on the light.
**It isn't just the girl. The tone is all wrong. I think, really, what they're attempting with the cover (and that font!) is to pull in the WE HEART VAMPIRES crowd, but that crowd, for the most part, isn't going to dig this book. It's like apples and, I dunno, some other kind of fruit that isn't available very often and not everyone is a fan but those who do absolutely love it and savor it whenever they can. I'd say avocados, but I hate avocados. But you know what I mean. Same genre umbrella, totally different style, substance, story and (in the case of the Twilight books at any rate) quality. This book is made of total and complete awesome, but it's not necessarily going to going to cause scary mobs at the bookstore.
***I loved that the author mentioned the Acadian background of some of the characters—my sister and I come from proud Acadian stock and I don't remember ever seeing it mentioned in any other YA lit, so that was really cool on a personal level.