Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!
Today, I'm thrilled to review the amazing Spirit's Key by debut author Edith Cohn.
This is a smart, supernatural coming-of-age tale on a girl who - through the guidance of a long-departed friend - is able to find confidence in her own abilities, and come into her own.
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Format read: Physical ARC via publisher
Debut novelist Cohn has written a touching story about family bonds, the strength of love and unyielding kindness, with lessons that will resonate with readers of all ages.
By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner's destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can't get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky's ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it's too late.
This is a scenario that Edith Cohn presents beautifully in her debut novel Spirit's Key, a story about a young girl who is coming to terms with her hereditary psychic powers, while living in a small town that is undergoing some mysterious (and life-threatening) changes.
Spirit, like her father and generations of Holdens before them, should have the ability to see into the future. However, it isn't until she loses her beloved dog Sky through unexplained circumstances and the town begins falling victim to a mysterious illness, that Spirit's powers activate and she begins setting out to figure out what's going on.
Cohn's tale of magical realism, combined with a touching if occasionally painful coming-of-age story, is insightful as much as it is imaginative. She shows us what it means to feel like the odd person out in a tight-knit society, and how through unique circumstances, a person can use those differences to find strength, leadership and courage.
Outside of Spirit's own journey, Cohn also does a fantastic job of showing how one person can use influence the positive outcomes of an entire community. Spirit's energy, along with the timely influence of beautifully constructed magical realism elements, are able to help Bald Island begin to look at each other, the baldies and their setting with different, wiser eyes.
Educators and parents can take Spirit's actions as a nice way to discuss how one person can influence positive change, and possibly tie this into some real-world instances of this occurring as well.
Of special note: Throughout Spirit's Key, Cohn thoughtfully asses how a culture can become so tight-knit, it may inadvertently allow incorrect stereotypes and misunderstandings to persist from generation to generation - e.g. the island's beliefs about the dangers of the baldies.
Educators and parents will likely appreciate Cohn's recognition of this fact, but also her astute follow-up that it's still possible to change those perceptions. As long as people are willing to open their mind to change - e.g. Nector's confession to wanting to play with Sky - anything is possible.
This is a wonderful book for fans of books like Because of Winn-Dixie and A Snicker of Magic. Younger readers will absolutely love Spirit's bravery, innate abilities and genuine love of animals and nature, while older readers will appreciate Cohn's thoughtful lessons on the importance of friendship, family and working together to accomplish a single goal.
As for me, I'm excited to see what other books Edith will write in the future. I truly believe that this is a start of a star-making career for her, and that she'll be adding a lot of wonderful tales to our literary communities in the year to come.
About the author:
Edith Cohn was born and raised in North Carolina where she grew up visiting the unique beaches of the Outer Banks. She currently lives in the coyote-wild hills of Los Angeles with her husband and fur-daughter Leia. All of these things provided inspiration for her middle grade novel, SPIRIT’S KEY, a mystery about a girl and her ghost dog coming soon from FSG/Macmillan.