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by Gail Godwin
Bloomsbury USA, June 2017
336 pages
ISBN: 1632867044

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this lovely, slow-moving gothic story, eleven-year-old Marcus Harshaw, whose mother has just died, moves to South Carolina to live with his great-aunt, Charlotte Lee, in a small beach cottage.

Charlotte, a reclusive painter who drinks too much wine, warmly takes in Marcus. She's made a name for herself painting almost exclusively a ruined cottage nearby. She tells Marcus that it matches the ruin of her own life. And she also tells Marcus that a family—a teenage son and his parents—went missing from the cottage fifty years ago in a hurricane. The cottage, empty since then, has been named "Grief Cottage" by the locals.

This, of course, fascinates Marcus. With a long summer ahead of him, he finds his independence in a vintage bicycle and becomes a bit obsessed with sea turtles nesting near his aunt's cottage. But it is Grief Cottage that really haunts him, and he visits day after day. No one remembers the name of the missing family that was renting the cottage, and even old newspapers at the library don't have the information. Then, one day, Marcus sees the teenager's ghost at the doorway of the cottage—is it a dream? A vision conjured by a boy who wants to see the dead? Or a real ghost?

It almost doesn't matter in this beautifully drawn portrait of loss and loneliness. Marcus, who never knew who his father was, feels he is danger of losing his only relative, Charlotte, as well, as she sinks deeper into alcoholism. Godwin writes in the introduction that she has always been "drawn to those crossover places in ghost stories and novels: the hair-thin junctions between sanity as we understand it and what we call 'the other side.'"

This is not your typical ghost story, but something more complex—and wonderful. Oh, and Marcus, quietly stubborn, does end up solving a mystery in the end.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, July 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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