Thursday, May 12, 2016

Into the Grey

by Celine Kiernan

Oooh! A spooky story about 15-year-old twin brothers in Ireland in the 1970s. I read this as an e-book, which was an okay experience, but I wish I had read the actual book, because it's a nice physical object — size, heft, design. But I was traveling and trying to be compact.

I read it on the plane, so it was sort of dark, but too many people around to be a really scary atmosphere. I did get frightened at one point, and a little choked up even, but also I was kinda drunk. (Long story... spilled my drink when half-way done, and both flight attendants gave me replacement minis, so I wound up with three and a half drinks instead of one.) I was also, about two-thirds through the book, prepared to be really pissed off if it ended the way it looked to be headed, but I won't spoil the ending by telling you.

The story is multi-layered and multi-generational, with multiple "ghosts" both literal and figurative. It explores themes of love and loss, moving on (or not) and growing up. At a dingy old seaside cottage, one of the brothers is possessed by the ghost of a child, and the remaining brother must somehow figure out how to save him. The story of the ghost child links to the story of a dead WWI soldier, whose story in turn links to the twins' stroke-addled grandmother and a suicidal stranger they saved from drowning in the ocean.

The twin who narrates has a very clear and genuine voice, and his powerfully expressed love and fear for his brother are both underlined by the vaguer sense of how they're beginning to grow apart and moving toward adulthood. In many teen books, the adult characters are absent or useless and/or the teen characters act as if no adult could ever understand or help. Refreshingly, in this book the narrator believes his parents could help him and his brother; even though he has compelling reasons not to ask for their help directly, he still sees the possibility of drawing on the potency of their familial bonds. While he searches for his own strength and understanding, he has a lingering tendency to seek the shelter of their care and authority — a tendency that itself is evolving into a recognition of the wisdom and capability that come with experience and maturity — which I think is a more realistically nuanced portrayal of the adolescent experience.

All those details aside, it's also just a really good story with a lot of narrative tension and emotional intensity. I've already recommended it to a teen reader!

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