In Nina Kiriki Hoffman's novel, young Susan discovers freedom, friendship and trust ... in a haunted house.
Her own home is a true house of horrors. Susan's rigid, authoritarian father demands she live up to his notions of perfection. When she falls short, he punishes her by hurting her mother.
To survive, Susan has learned not to feel, and not to give others any indication of what happens in her home. She learns about who she really is on the inside, and finds out what it means to have friends, after she accompanies three other children on an expedition to a haunted house.
I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual ghost story, my first read for Carl V.'s R.I.P. Challenge. Hoffman skillfully contrasted the elements of a haunting tale - a decaying old house, a resident ghost, strange rituals in the attic - with the real-life perils of a child growing up in an abusive home. My heart ached for Susan throughout the book, as she slowly learned to trust others and to hold onto her authentic self, despite her father's attempts to mold her into his perfect "Princess."
Susan's new friends included Nathan, a ghost who died at about her age, and the haunted house itself. To Susan, House is a living, breathing entity with feelings and a mind of its own. House welcomes Susan and the other three living children, allowing them to use its rooms as a sort of sanctuary, a place to explore their passions and to share their secrets.
Hoffman's writing had the quality of a vivid dream. It painted pictures in my mind as I read: of Susan's oceanside town, of House, pulsing with life and love, and of Susan, desperately struggling against her own fears while reaching for the things everyone wants: friends, acceptance, a place to call her own.
My only quibble with the book was I wished it was longer. I wanted to know more about Susan's empathic relationship with House, about Nathan's life, even about how Susan's father became so twisted inside. A Stir of Bones is a prequel to two other novels by Hoffman, featuring many of the same characters, that I hope to read soon.
My grade: A