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THE CELLAR by Katherine Lo Kirkus Star


by Katherine Lo

Publisher: Lanterna Press

After her uncle dies in the attacks on 9/11, a tough Brooklyn teen moves to Virginia and connects across time with a boy whose family has been divided by the Civil War.

When 16-year-old Julia McKinley’s uncle Denny died on 9/11, her mother fell apart. Unable to keep living a normal life without her beloved twin brother, her mother’s solution is to leave New York, rent an old house in rural Virginia and drown her emotions in copious amounts of wine. Julia accompanies her in an attempt to provide support, leaving her father, younger brother and close friends behind to start her senior year of high school down South. Frustrated by her mother’s insistence on spending less time with her than at the bottom of a glass, Julia ends up spending a great deal of time in the house’s cellar, where she encounters a teenage boy named Elias. He’s not a ghost; he’s all too alive, just in another time period. While Julia tries to piece together her family, torn apart by terrorism, Elias, in the middle of the Civil War, hopes to reunite his Southern separatist brother with his Union-leaning father. Seemingly fated to meet in order to help each other cope, Julia and Elias grow to rely on their daily heart-to-hearts in the cellar, to the point that Julia’s growing love for someone stuck in the 19th century threatens to prevent her from fostering relationships with people in the modern world. The premise sounds straight out of Doctor Who, but rather than focus on the wild sci-fi aspects of her story, debut author Lo focuses on the emotions. What results in a far more realistic, mature look at human relationships than readers might expect from a story with such an unbelievable plot twist. A great deal of credit goes to Julia’s smart, tough narration, which keeps the story grounded in reality. She’s a funny, flawed heroine whom readers of all ages will identify with and admire.

A touching tale of two people from different times, both trying to keep their splintering families together.