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by Gretel Enck

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

In this middle-grade debut novel, a girl learns more about her deceased parents while searching for a local child who’s gone missing.

Young Veronica Curtiss lives with her grandmother on a farm in Little Pine, Texas. Her parents died in a car accident when she was 3, and she dreams of one day escaping her small, boring town. Today’s her 11th birthday, and her best friends, Rita Salazar and Johanna Cobos, give her a charm bracelet. When it later vanishes, her Gram jokes that Los Descarriados, the legendary Mexican cowboy ghosts, took it. Later, at the Fort McCullough Field Day, Johanna’s uncle, Billie George, participates in Civil War reenactments. Someone deflates his horse trailer’s tires, and Rita’s 6-year-old brother, Ramón, blames three men riding burros. Further strangeness occurs when a pair of ravens return Veronica’s bracelet to her—and apologize for snatching it. (“We’re not just pretty; we can talk human,” one says.) Then Ramón is suddenly nowhere to be found. The girls frantically search for him, but Billie George believes that the boy’s father, up from Mexico, has taken him. The ravens, whom Veronica calls Cork and Rackoo, point her toward her own father’s workshop, where he did flight experiments. Could a forgotten invention help her search for Ramón in a way that nobody else can? Although Enck sets her story in 2007, her exploration of xenophobia seems even more relevant in the present day. At one point, for instance, Billie George assumes, without evidence, that Ramón’s Mexican father is not only a kidnapper, but also a thief responsible for local robberies. Genuine thematic grandeur arrives when the local mailman, Howard “Alkali” Moskowitz, tells the girls about the Encyclopӕdia of Useless Things that he’s writing, which includes such concepts as shame and “most guilt.” Veronica’s desire to operate an old invention distracts a bit from the search for Ramón. However, the truth behind Los Descarriados is emotionally rich, particularly when Rita wonders, “Do you know what would make them happy?” Younger readers may need some help understanding the finale, and older ones, if they aren’t too teary-eyed, should oblige.

A layered and emotionally ambitious fantasy.