In this YA novel, a high school boy’s life changes after an ominous prediction and his meeting a mysterious new girl.
Jaden Miller isn’t looking forward to starting his sophomore year. He misses New York City, where he lives during the summer with his dad. He hates Duncan, “the lamest town anywhere,” in the swampy mud of Gulf Coast Louisiana. It’s little consolation that he happens to be a cool, popular kid: a varsity lacrosse player, tall and built, with the hottest girls in school vying for his attention. His first day of school, however, offers surprises. Madam Marian, silent proprietor of the Stop-N-Shop, actually speaks to him: “Someone dear to you, boy, will die within the year.” And at assembly, he sees a beautiful dark-haired girl with scratched, bloody hands whom no one knows. Jaden becomes increasingly obsessed with tracking her down; he can’t discover her name, but he finds little tokens: a “dandelion…clinging by a piece of tape to the bottom of her desktop, and…another, on the floor, close to my feet.” Are his mysterious encounters with a red fox and mourning dove somehow related? Why are flowers going missing? Jaden’s cool status is threatened as he pursues his obsession to a final, dramatic confrontation at the bayou’s supposedly haunted Duncan Shipyard. In her remarkably accomplished debut novel, Gragg, a high schooler, skillfully combines a truly spooky ghost story with a coming-of-age tale. Jaden defies expectations of the cool kid/jock, showing sensitivity and empathy: “Sometimes—well, most of the time—losers are actually decent guys, more decent than the dudes on the lacrosse team.” Observing a dandelion clock, he muses: “All plants have a pattern, a beautiful pattern, if you just look.” Gragg effectively builds mystery and suspense, while keeping things moving at a decent pace and making excellent use of her setting. A framing story—Jaden as a middle-aged man recalling the whole story—seems out of place, and some elements, such as the girl’s continued invisibility in such a small school, challenge credulity. Still, with a writer this young, readers have a lot to look forward to.
Multilayered, resonant and intriguing.