On the inside, Susan's life is stultifying and always, always, tinged with fear. Her father looms as a terrifying figure, and everything she does is viewed through the lens of his approval. Even so, Susan longs of a little bit of freedom, and when a science project comes along that justifies her spending time at the library in the afternoon, instead of coming home immediately after school, Susan jumps at the chance.
At the library she overhears some kids talking,complaining that they have nowhere to go where they can have some peace and privacy. They decide to explore an abandoned old house at the edge of town, a place with a reputation for being haunted. Susan recognizes one of the voices as belonging to Julio, the son of her parent's housekeeper - the only kind-of friend Susan has ever had, even though her father put a stop to their spending time together long ago. She surprises herself by approaching the other kids, who are angry that she's been listening to their conversation. She turns aside their anger and asks if she can come, too.
The old house hides many secrets, and from the moment the friends step inside, their perceptions of the world radically change. The walls pulse with a strangeness that only Susan seems to understand, as if the difference between her life and the others' has given her a power to navigate spirits, unearthly power, and dusty old bones. Despite the strangeness and fear, this house is infinitely safer than her own, and she is drawn there, day after day, dreading the return to her own cold, frightening house and the things that happen there. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows it is only a matter of time before she will have to pay the price for her newfound freedom, but she can't think about that right now...
I love Nina Kiriki Hoffman's books - they are evocative and exciting, with characters I quickly come to care about and who stay with me long after the books have ended. A Stir of Bones had me from the beginning, with its dark and disturbing undercurrents and compelling plot.
Don't just take my word for it that Hoffman is a wonderful writer. Here's an excerpt from a review Charles de Lint wrote about this book, her first YA novel (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 2003):
"Hoffman is one of those authors that, while she certainly appeals to a genre audience--at least one with an interest in contemporary fantasy--is also an excellent ambassador to the wider world of literature beyond our few shelves of the bookstore. Her books are the kind that I can hand to my friends who only read mainstream and they are immediately enamored--not realizing that they're reading a fantasy, for all the fantastical goings on in their pages."This is my third book read for the Once Upon a Time II Challenge, and I highly recommend it! Don't forget to stop by the review site for links to reviews of many wonderful books others are reading for this challenge.
A Stir of Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Viking, 2003)
B&OT review of Spirits That Walk in Shadow by Nina Kiriki Hoffman