This middle-grade ghostly mystery delivers a timely message.
Life on tiny Bald Island is fragile—but for 12-year-old Spirit Holden, who moved there with her father six years earlier, it is home. To the islanders, the Holdens will always be “dingbatters”—outsiders—but their superstitious natures appreciate Spirit’s father’s gift of second sight, since they believe it protects them from the harsh natural elements as well as the baldies—the island’s feral dogs. Even Spirit’s pet baldie, Sky, cannot sway the islanders’ belief that the dogs are evil. Cohn reflects on insular attitudes in an isolated region as she spins a story about fear of the unknown. When baldies begin turning up dead (including Spirit’s beloved Sky) and people fall sick, islanders begin blaming the Holdens. With the help of Sky, who returns as a sort of canis ex machina ghost, Spirit uncovers the secret to the baldies’ deaths, discovers her own power and convinces the islanders that superstition and narrow thinking are the real dangers. The story’s worthy theme of tolerance would be more effective if it were not trotted out quite so regularly, and the pacing often drags when action seems most dictated—a casualty of the same tendency to overexplain.
Despite these shortcomings, however, this debut is an inventive story with a fresh setting and an upstanding moral compass. (Fantasy. 9-12)