Sisters Sam and Ollie McAlister live with their bee-keeping father near the Crooked River in Oregon. Their mother died just four weeks earlier, and Ollie, 10, hasn’t spoken a word since. Sam, who is 15, is frustrated with Ollie’s reasons for not speaking, which have to do with Ollie claiming to see ghosts. As Ollie explains in the chapters she narrates (alternating with Sam):
“As far back as I can remember I’ve seen them. In dim light, they seem almost solid. In bright light, barely visible. If I touch them, it’s ice and fire, energy burning. They are glints and specks, here and then gone. Shimmering. Like heat rising off pavement.”
What is worse for Ollie is that these ghosts try to speak through her. If she opens her mouth, she knows it is their words that will come out, not hers, so after someone dies, she doesn’t talk for a while.
Sam doesn’t believe in ghosts, angels, a soul, or any afterlife at all. She thinks Ollie is just being foolish, and constantly admonishes her to “stop being a baby.”
But Sam also loves Ollie, and now that their mom is gone, she tries to take care of her. Their dad, known as Bear, has been acting strange too. And when the girls find the body of a dead woman floating in the Crooked River, Sam is afraid that Bear is somehow involved. Sam isn’t the only one; before long, Bear is arrested.
Ollie knows something, but she is afraid to speak. Sam can’t believe Bear is a killer but the police claim they have a solid case. Sam is determined to get at the truth, even though no likely outcome is appealing. If Bear is guilty, Sam and Ollie are for all intensive purposes orphans and homeless, which would be bad enough. But if she’s right and Bear is innocent, then whoever did is still out there, and has a stake in making sure that no one casts doubt on Bear’s guilt.
Evaluation: This is an excellent story. I was reminded a bit of John Hart. The characters are well-written; one can’t help rooting for these two courageous and big-hearted girls who keep hope alive in the face of all they have suffered. The plot is imaginative and contains a great deal of suspense. And the reflections on family and love and trust turn this story into something much more than just a mystery.
Published by William Morrow, and imprint of HarperCollins, 2014