Infused with a whimsical sense of adventure, Rhodes’ latest draws life from the mystical aura of the Louisiana bayou, braiding it with threads of environmental consciousness.
Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson lives in New Orleans with her mother, father and four older sisters. Each summer a note arrives requesting that one of the sisters come and visit their grandmother at her remote cottage in the bayou. When Grandmère’s latest letter arrives with Maddy’s name scrawled across it, the 10-year-old gets the shivers. Her siblings have warned of her grandmother’s weirdness and the spookiness of the setting. Yet Maddy’s adventure-seeking nature is drawn to the intrigue. The pace of the story is quick, while the setting and mysticism give the tale a sense of timelessness—it feels neither modern nor historical. Although the overall movement of the story is satisfying, the confluence of ideas heaped into the story can at times seem forced. Rhodes combines coming of age, friendship, aging, environmentalism and family obligation, just to name a few issues, into her bayou bouillabaisse. The effect sometimes feels muddier than the swamp. Still, an array of colorful bayou folk adds likable strangeness, while the presence of a mermaid in the family lore refreshes the waters.
Adventure-seeking girls with a taste for mermaids need apply. (Magical realism. 8-12)