Searles (Boy Still Missing, 2001, etc.) turns in another coming-of-age tale, about a young female protaganist and centered around a possibly occult murder mystery.
Sylvie Mason’s parents are—or were—“demonologists.” Devoutly Christian, her dad zealously worked the lecture circuit while her mom had the talent to soothe the haunted humans who came to them for help. When they are both murdered in a church on a snowy night, 14-year-old Sylvie is the sole witness but doesn’t fully remember what happened. In the custody of Rose, her spiteful, rebellious older sister, Sylvie struggles to reconcile her bleak new life with her slightly less-bleak former life. Then, she was always the “good daughter” despite being bullied by Rose and kept in the dark about her parents’ career. Now, nearly a year later, she is ostracized by her peers, and the fate of the murder suspect rests in her unsure hands. Searles successfully jumps back and forth in time to let these stories unfold, sewing clues and strange details along the way, the creepiest being a doll named Penny that may be possessed. Slowly, Sylvie breaks out of her good-girl mold to uncover greater truths about her sister, herself and what happened the night of the killing. But for all the time spent uncovering their history, her parents remain murky set pieces, their paranormal abilities and activities never wholly understood. Other pieces of the narrative veer toward overexplanation, but some moments are deftly eerie, and Searles has a knack for building tension; the “haunted” of the title refers as much to Sylvie and her circumstances as to things otherworldly.
A somber, well-paced journey, wrapped in a mystery, that will keep readers guessing until the revealing conclusion.