A small Southern town harbors a haunted swamp that has the power to steal people and memories.
Sterling and her brother, Phin, are best friends. They survived their alcoholic father, and now—father gone, mother remarried—they remain close, although Sterling fears Phin’s imminent departure for college. When an argument results in Phin’s storming off into the avoid-at-all-costs swamp, Sterling worries. Then her sister comes traipsing home, and only Sterling knows that the sibling who stormed off was a brother; for everyone else, Lenora May has always been there. Sterling’s journey to recover Phin leads to adventure and new connections and leaves her face to face with the power at the heart of the swamp. Parker has a nice touch with the Southern flavor of Sterling’s Louisiana town, steeped in superstition and silence, still racist and old-boy governed (Sterling’s black stepfather is respected but clearly not accepted). Some details rise above: The mysterious Shine, Lenora May’s love for life and Sterling’s best friend Candy all leap off the page. Other details—geography, back story and especially second best friend Abigail—clearly exist for plot propulsion, but the mosquito hum of tension and the rising romance and danger all keep this afloat.
Whiffs of the paranormal and Southern Gothic traditions imbue this mystery, and the ending has genuine emotional resonance too: This engaging debut should enjoy a wide audience. (Fantasy. 12 & up)