Love, mystery, and tragedy in a small town with a haunted past.
Marsden does not want to be a prostitute. She and her sister manage to lie low, working in the kitchen of the boardinghouse that fronts as iron-fisted Nina’s brothel. Marsden is multiracial Chinese and looks strikingly similar to her mother, who provides exotic diversions for Nina’s largely white clientele. Marsden’s desperation to protect her younger sister from the debauchery they live among leads her to skim cash from dead bodies—and in this dark and mysterious tale, dead bodies abound. The covert—the neglected wooded land that is her birthright—captures the imagination of the lost and hopeless. Local folklore and a history of bloodshed lead many to believe that earth from the covert, along the Indigo River, contains magical powers of absolution. Suicide victims with cash in their pockets are a common occurrence in the covert, where Marsden runs into Jude, a boy from school who is also “as mixed as she was, except black to her Chinese.” Jude is there to look for clues to his older brother’s suicide, and Marsden reluctantly agrees to help. The story builds on eerie developments and real-world fears as Nina blackmails Marsden to turn her first trick. The book is captivating and unearthly, with beautifully poignant writing and elegantly drawn characters. However, resolutions are disappointingly mundane, leaving readers craving more poetry and magic.
Fans of fabulism will love this book but may find the denouement unsatisfyingly prosaic. (Fabulism. 12-16)