A 12-year-old delinquent discovers healing powers in Harkey’s second book set in a magical, quaint Southern town.
Belle Cantrell, better known as Hush, lives in ’Bagoville, a derelict RV park outside the seemingly mostly white community of Sass, Georgia. She makes a habit of stealing small items from stores but declines to help her abusive mother’s angry boyfriend take part in real crime. When she’s caught, local folks send her to live with a pregnant gardener, Mabel, instead of juvie. It’s then that Hush discovers that she can see people’s pain, manifest as small red worms she dubs “pain imps,” and by removing them, heal people. Only sometimes pain is a warning signal, and so Hush’s good intentions backfire. The magical realism falls short here not because of the magic, but because the rest of the story feels false from the very beginning, when a girl Hush has never met before becomes her instant friend, all the way to the contrived resolution between Hush and her shockingly terrible mother. Hush’s problems are portrayed as simultaneously truly awful and easily cured; child readers with difficult backgrounds will recognize the inherent falsehood. Furthermore, Hush’s first-person Southern-isms are overdone to the point of stereotype, and her voice seldom feels authentic.
Lacking on several levels. (Fiction. 8-12)