The story of a resilient young girl who has the eerie ability to see and speak with the dead.
Set in the Forest of Dean and in London, this novel moves back and forth between two girls, 13-year-old Ruby, in 1983, and Anna, Ruby’s young mother, in 1970. A third point of view peppers the novel, that of a boy simply called Shadow who follows alongside Ruby and has been by her side for as long as she can remember. Shadow, it becomes clear, is one among many specters only Ruby can see who begin to appear more and more over the course of the book. When the story begins, Ruby is living with her adopted parents, Mick, who is horribly abusive, and Barbara, who is helpless; back in 1970, Anna is pregnant and determined to put her child up for adoption, knowing that her lover, Lewis, will be crushingly disappointed to have to raise a child and stay in the Forest of Dean. Ruby's and Anna’s stories develop side by side: Ruby eventually strikes back against Mick, hitting him with a wooden board as revenge for a particularly horrible beating, and runs away, finding refuge with her friend Tom and his sister and brother who are living alone in the hills—their parents having abandoned them to “find themselves” in India. When Ruby is born, Anna cannot bear to give her up, and she and Lewis move with the baby to London, where he falls in with a criminal crowd, and Anna begins to feel detached, ultimately succumbing to postpartum psychosis and abandoning Ruby. Throughout the novel, Ruby is desperate to find her biological parents, thinking they will care for her as she’s never been cared for. She discovers the truth in an unexpected place and more violence ensues. Hamer (The Girl in the Red Coat, 2015) has created a mystical world in which characters are haunted by specters of their present as well as their past, by the living and the lost. Her diction is lovely and tangible; describing the heightening frequency of Ruby’s experiences with specters, she writes, “the skin of this world was thinning hour by hour so you could look through it like the papery bit of an onion.”
A powerful paranormal novel.