Ethan is a high school senior, counting the days he can escape the small town life (and mentality) of Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan is still struggling with the death of his mother and how it has made his father a recluse, locked away in his study. He’s bored and lonely and believes that nothing ever changes in his town, until the start of his senior brings a new student to town, Lena Duchennes, the niece of the notorious town shut-in (and rumored mental case), Macon Ravenwood. Ethan immediately feels a connection to her and as the two get to know each other, each of their lives is changed and they face several dangers to their relationship, of both the regular and supernatural variety. This is a pretty bare-bones description of the events, but I feel that any more reveals too much about the unfolding story. Be warned that if you check out the Amazon.com or similar book descriptions, there are some mild spoilers in there.
This setup is a familiar one, especially with the influx of supernatural teen romances these days, and this had the potential to be a melodramatic mess, but several different things actually elevate this book above the normal YA fare. First, the setting. The authors are very adept at capturing the attitudes and often small-mindedness that often pervade the truly smalls towns. There are some very entertaining characters that populate the town, and some less entertaining ones that are just as true to life. The atmosphere is another plus for them. This really has a southern Gothic feel to it, and while I’ve never lived in the south, I feel as though they succeeded in creating a dark, moody atmosphere that I’ve only ever read about or seen applied to the south.
Their characterization is another strength. Ethan and Lena themselves are serviceable. Ethan is a nice guy, if a little on the vanilla side, and Lena is emotional, strong, and sometimes moody, so essentially your typical 15-year-old girl. I enjoyed them (Lena took awhile for me to warm up to), but it’s the supporting characters in this book that really shine. Ethan’s housekeeper (and essentially his stand-in mother), Amma, is a no-nonsense woman who cooks like it’s going out of style and constantly litters the house with charms and protection, as she is a big believer in the supernatural. His best friend, Link, is a happy go lucky kind of guy, who isn’t fazed by much and sticks with Ethan through everything. Macon Ravenwood, Lena’s uncle, may well be my favorite. There are several To Kill a Mockingbird references littered throughout the text leading up to his introduction, so that you are led to believe he is a Boo Radley type, a socially stunted person who is afraid of social interaction. He is anything but. I don’t want to give away too much about him, but he really is delightful. There are a number of other people, mainly Lena’s family, who are not necessarily crucial to the story, but are given their own personalities and are just as interesting (sometimes more) as the main characters.
This is the first in a trilogy, but lucky for us, the second one was released in 2010 and the third installment will be out this October. This book was a bit longer in length than many first entries of a trilogy (564 pages), but it never feels dragged out. There are a good number of story lines, and each plays out naturally and the resolutions feel natural and unforced. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is a fan of YA fiction with a supernatural theme, and I will definitely be picking up the subsequent volumes.