The difference between wanting and needing can be as slight as the breath off a midnight swamp or as vast as a torrent of floodwater.
Piontek weaves a heartbreaking tale of loss infused with the nearly suffocating weight of longing, need, and absence. The death of Mama leaves young Sparrow in the care of tall, thin, and emotionally brittle Auntie Geraldine. Sparrow has never known her father, and in her small Florida town where her home sat pressed against the Everglades, rumor was the dark-haired girl was the spawn of the swamp itself. Long as Mama lived, Sparrow accepted her outsider status. With Mama gone, Sparrow finds herself engulfed in a grief as stifling as summer humidity. Sparrow’s only companion is the ghostly Boy who has been part of her life as long as she can remember, until at last she begins to make some living friends. Piontek spins a gothic ghost tale, delivering it in a lyrical narrative that threatens to overwhelm readers as sure as a blanket of Florida summer heat. Sparrow and her friends are white, not unusual in Beulah, Florida, whose social stratifications include unspoken segregation.
Even though the ending comes too fast and too tidily after so much soul-stirring grief, the story features some lovely writing, and it’s full of characters who linger like apparitions. (Fantasy. 10-14)