"Where y'at, Iris?"
In SHADOWED SUMMER, Saundra Mitchell immerses us into a Southern setting so rich we can taste it, describing summer-hot Louisiana by showing instead of telling, "My nightgown stuck to me, peeling from my skin with a tickle." She pegs small town life, "According to the sign out by the highway, Ondine was home to 346 good people and 3 cranky old coots and was a good place to live, but that was a lie," and small town people, "Mr. Ourso had a lot of time on his hands, so sometimes he'd stack the groceries alphabetical. Sometimes he did them by size - you never knew until you got there."
While Mitchell is a master at setting, she's a magician with characterization, sliding Iris's skin over the reader's. "Possibility prickled at the back of my neck; it made my heart beat fast in anticipation. A copper tang spread on my tongue, a taste that made me go all tight inside, waiting for something to happen."
Ondine definitely holds some secrets, and Iris's fourteen-year-old curiosity isn't willing to leave them hidden. What makes this ghost story memorable is that Iris isn't just struggling with a haunting, she's struggling with what it feels like to become a woman without her mom around to guide her. Her dad isn't absent, he's solid (which is refreshing), but he's still a man. While allowing Iris to search out secrets about "The Incident with the Landry boy," Mitchell also allows Iris to begin to grow up, and she gets the balance just right.
Strong plot, excellent pace, gorgeous setting and richly-drawn characters. Read it. You won't regret it. SHADOWED SUMMER was nominated for an Edgar Award for a reason.
Highest of High Recommendations