To the recent crop of strong debuts in an overcrowded literary arena add this series opener, a tale of demonic possession and a centuries-old family trade in exorcism.
Life in Mia’s loving, if overprotective, Italian-American family is upended when a horrifying demon enters and nearly kills her. After Giuliano Della Torre and his grandson Emilio, long-estranged relatives from Milan, arrive and drive it out, they talk Mia’s reluctant parents into letting her return to Italy with them. For her safety, she’s sequestered in the family’s home and adjacent candle shop. Studying Italian history and language, Mia comes to love her family (including some of its ghosts) and heritage, even the scary bits, but she increasingly resents confinement, longing to explore this rich new world. Cliché-free characters—patriarch Giuliano, his wife Laura, gorgeous Emilio and his sister, Francesca, especially—appear to have lives of their own beyond serving the needs of the plot. The demons themselves are haunting, multifaceted creatures that are both pathetic and extremely dangerous; the evil they project is complex and pain-ridden. Fortunately Mia demonstrates a strong gift for the family trade, which, like the novel’s other elements (the food will have readers salivating), is portrayed in exquisite, affectionate detail.
This one goes to the head of the class. (Fantasy. 12 & up)