The Spirit of Cattail County

My inaugural juvenile fiction review! I am really excited to take over this collection at FPL (I do still have my first baby, the j nonfic section). Imagonna put it out there that these posts will be skewed to favorites (books about spitfire heroines, a la Dicey Tillerman, and books about Americana – think Richard Peck’s Year Down Yonder) versus the more objectively selected books with wider-ranging topics over there in my nonfiction posts. But hopefully, since you’re here, you’ll find a recommendation for j fic that is useful to a kiddo you know. (Or yourself!) Alrighty then, away we go!

On a fun level, Piontek’s first novel would make a great read for those chilly autumn nights leading up to Halloween as it’s populated with one mischievous ghost boy and other, less-formed spirits who swarm around kind folks on this side of the veil (depending on how you feel about it, this could be a good reason to be nice or a good reason not to, gulp). On a deeper level, it’s a story about finding one’s place – in this world and in the next. Sparrow is already kept at arm’s length by the community of Beulah, and when her mom dies, she feels even more isolated. She’s at the mercy of her awful Auntie Geraldine, who has decided to sell Sparrow’s beloved family home on the edge of the swamp and take Sparrow away to live with her. Sparrow does, though, find her first real friends in siblings Maeve and Johnny Casto, who help her seek the answer to a question that may turn things around for her. Intertwined with her search is that of the ghost boy, who has been Sparrow’s constant companion and must find something very important of his own. Piontek’s development of her characters is terrific. The reader roots and aches for lonely Sparrow and for her ghost boy. Sundry lesser members of the cast – Elena and her Uncle Eli; Maeve, Johnny, and Mason Casto, etc. – are just as endearing. On the other hand, Auntie Geraldine and Ansley and Andrew Monroe, a pair of relentless bullies, are spiteful and easy to despise. And her rich description of the teeming swamp makes it as much of a compelling player in the story as the people. This is a truly satisfying first effort by Piontek. She adeptly weaves the goose-pimply supernatural aspect of her story with the sometimes painfully realistic experiences and interactions of her living characters, and the plot has twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing (I said, “Oh, no!” out loud several times) as to what lies at the end of Sparrow’s quest.

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