Review by Laura Ward
Tundra Books, Penguin Random House, 2018
356 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, 978-1-101-91889-0
Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7
Middle-Grade, Mystery, Fantasy
The shadows in the barn seemed to deepen around me, and I felt that smothering feeling I’d had in the cemetery. I closed my eyes, and suddenly I was in the shipwreck dream for just an instant, the storm raging, the decks tilting, my other calling my name, “Moira! Moira!” There were people screaming all around me, or was that the wind? It sounded like the wind in the cemetery, a wind with a human voice.
Suddenly I understood the words: “By water! By water! By water!”
I opened my eyes and the barn was gone. I was on the ship, drenched with rain, and my mother was reaching for my hand.
“Ruth!” Called a sharp voice, and the ship blinked away, and I was back in the barn, lying on the ground, with Ruby looking frightened above me, and Eldred just behind her.
Ghosts, a family curse, and two young girls dedicated to finding the truth is what The Ghost Road is all about.
Charis Cotter’s middle-grade novel follows Ruth Windsor, a 12-year-old girl from Toronto who is spending the summer in Newfoundland with her aunt and cousin while her father is away on his honeymoon with his new wife. Ruth discovers that her late mother had a twin, and that the two women died on the same day, around the same time. As well, Ruth is told my a mysterious local that there are fairies and ghosts in the town, and that she is the only one that is able to see a road called The Ghost Road, due to her inheriting the Sight from her ancestors. She is at first unconvinced, but can’t help becoming scared as she sees things that others can’t, including an apparition of her late mother. Ruby, Ruth’s cousin, is as free-spirited as Ruth is skeptical. She throws herself fully into the mystery of the Ghost Road and their family secrets regarding the succession of twins and their tragic deaths, dragging Ruth along for the ride.
The Ghost Road is a mystery novel about a curse and generations of cursed ghosts. The book subverts the ghost story trope of spirits carrying terror and misery, and instead the ghosts are ones that carry information, love, and encouragement for the living. Unlike other well-known mystery novels for middle-grade readers, such as the Nancy Drew series, this novel brings in a strong thread of emotions woven throughout the plot so that you cannot have one without the other. For example, generations of women support Ruby and Ruth in their efforts to uncover the truth, and the girls come to terms with and accept the deaths of their mothers through their encouragement. This is what makes The Ghost Road so unique from other novels for this age.
Related to this, something that is refreshing and sorely needed for young readers is the lack of romantic storylines in this novel. The plot focuses entirely on the familial connection between Ruth and Ruby and the mysteries at hand. This makes the novel straightforward, engaging, and a break from other media that reinforces that romantic relationships are integral to one’s happiness. Readers are allowed to be swept up in the curse that the family lives without any distractions from the core of the plot.
Cotter chooses to break up the chapters into very short passages, some being no more than three or four pages. Instead of breaking up the flow of the story, the storyline flows among the chapters, as though there were no breaks at all. This makes sure the book can’t be put down, and the reader is never jarred out of the world.
The Ghost Road is a novel that brings together the innocence of childhood, understanding the past and its consequences, and a darn good mystery as well. It is captivating, heart-warming, and at times scary, but overall it is engaging and a must-read for all readers 9-12.
Laura Ward finished her undergraduate at UBC with a focus in Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice and Creative Writing. She hopes she can bridge these two subjects in her writing, especially for younger readers. Laura enjoys going for walks in quiet forests, eating copious amounts of pasta, and watching cartoons, in no particular order.