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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

The Swallow: A Ghost Story

Author: Charis Cotter
Originally Published: 2014
Publisher: Tundra Books, a division of Random House Canada
Source: Through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program

The Swallow

The Story

From the cover flap:

Two old houses stand side by side overlooking a cemetery. In one house is Polly. In the other is Rose. They couldn’t be more different. Polly has a large, noisy family, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly has a wile imagination and speaks before she thinks; Rose broods and says little. Polly’s greatest desire is to see a ghost, while Rose just wishes she could stop seeing them.

Both girls spend their days feeling lonely and invisible, until they discover their attic hideaways share a wall. Despite their differences, the two become friends. But is there more to Rose than meets the eye? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose’s name on it and encounter and angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they set out to unravel the mystery. A haunted house, a curse and a family secret all come to light as the two girls explore the uncertain world between life – and death.

The Response

I requested this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It sounded completely charming – a ghost story mystery! In olden-times Toronto! Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as charming as I had been hoping it would be.

I think the biggest thing about this book that drew away from my full enjoyment was how the chapters were formatted. First of all, the chapters were all quite short. Some only a couple of pages long. But they felt even shorter, because each chapter was split in two – one half belonging to each girl. So I didn’t get to feel like I was really actually getting into what each girl was going through at any particular time before I had to switch gears in order to focus on the other girl, which made the pacing feel so much slower than it could have. I feel like so much more could have been made by this story if only the structure was slightly reworked.

The main characters themselves were quite well developed – I really enjoyed how much the two girls contrasted, and yet were able to become friends despite how different they were. One is always so happy, outgoing and full of life, while the other was quiet, secluded and could have been considered an emo kid if she lived in contemporary times. Even how the two girls responded to the thought of seeing ghosts (one already did and hated it, one didn’t and wanted to) made for some interesting conflicts at time.

The author also did a great job with making the graveyard that the story partially took place in feel very creepy, mysterious and real. Actually, the settings in general were the most enjoyable part of the book for me – the graveyard, the library, and various older Toronto locations. This is the third book that I’ve read in as many months that takes place in older Toronto, and it still gives me a bit of a thrill when I read of a location, and I can say to myself, “hey! I’ve been there! I’ve driven through the Rosedale subway station! I know the intersection of Bloor and Whatever! I know where this is!”

The revealing of the mystery surprised me a little bit; it wasn’t too predictable. It also very much had a bittersweet ending that suited the story, but still made me have some feels. I rather wish the book had been longer because I feel like I’ve missed out on something, like certain elements could have been explored a little bit more – especially the ghosts that Rose sees. The animosity of the evil spirit of her aunt’s ghost would have definitely been a great thing to build up more in this story.

The Bottom Line

I’m not sure if I will read more by this author – but I would recommend this book to middle grade girls. I know I would have REALLY enjoyed this book at that age.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 8:15 am November 20, 2014.
Category: Children's
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