This short “mystery story for young teens” is a love letter to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as seen through the eyes of two young boys and their stepfather.
Yaruta-Young’s (Many Happy Returns?, 2014) family goes back generations on the Eastern Shore. It’s one of those special places, like New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, that produce more mystery and quirkiness than locals can consume, so it has to be exported in books like this one. Max and his little brother, Charles, and their stepfather, Fred, are off for a guys’ weekend of crabbing. They’re a likable trio, and the first thing they come upon, in the middle of the oyster-shell road to Ellis Island, is an old lady holding a big snapping turtle by the tail. The mysterious Hattie Harriston pretty much forces the turtle on Fred and the boys in an effort to make sure that the creature gets to a place to lay her eggs. The group also discovers a graveyard that surprisingly contains a tombstone for Hattie Harriston. After a day’s successful crabbing, Fred and the boys head to the town of Vienna and check into the old Vienna Inn for the night. More memorable characters bob up, namely Miss Marie, the proprietor, and Miss Ruby, whose legendary restaurant is known only to the locals. (To say that these people are insular would be an understatement, but Fred has some local family ties.) A mystery needs a ghost story, and later that night Miss Marie (and Yaruta-Young) tell a doozy, involving young lovers eloping, haunting, and violent death—all connected to the Vienna Inn. Readers learn more crucial facts about Hattie Harriston, and about what finally happens to the snapping turtle; suffice it to say that the conclusion is tidy. One major strength of the book is its inclusion of details about such things as how to fish for crabs (“First you need to get one of those baskets—one that has an inner tube around it”) or a visit to the button factory, where workers make oyster-shell buttons for high-end fashions. Yaruta-Young tells a good story, and the descriptions of the Eastern Shore steal every scene.
The author’s intended audience of young teenagers may really like this book—and also fall in love with its setting.