Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

Release Date: February 10, 2009
Pages: 192
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback
Source: Kristi (The Story Siren)
Age Group: Young Adult
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Shadowed Summer

Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

Iris is ready for another hot, routine summer in her small Louisiana town, hanging around the Red Stripe grocery with her best friend, Collette, and traipsing through the cemetery telling each other spooky stories and pretending to cast spells. Except this summer, Iris doesn’t have to make up a story. This summer, one falls right in her lap.

Years ago, before Iris was born, a local boy named Elijah Landry disappeared. All that remained of him were whispers and hushed gossip in the church pews. Until this summer. A ghost begins to haunt Iris, and she’s certain it’s the ghost of Elijah. What really happened to him? And why, of all people, has he chosen Iris to come back to?

Shadowed Summer is the story of a girl named Iris. Nothing ever happens in her small town Ondine, Louisiana. Heat, church, and gossip is all their reality is. There’s only been one incident, and that happened years ago. Iris and her best friend Collette play ghost stories in the graveyard. They pretend that they’re witches and that the winds speak to them. That’s the only excitement that they have to look forward to.

Occasionally they will work in Collette’s mom’s diner, and get free soda in exchange. They might go down to the library. Collette’s turned so boy crazy that Iris is feeling lonelier. But when one day, a ghost actually speaks to Iris, everything changes.

Collette goes along with it at first. When Ben, Collette’s crush, and them pull out a Ouija board, and get a message from Elijah, they’re even more confused. Was he murdered? Is he still alive? What happened to Elijah, and why has he singled out Iris?

I was actually expecting this book to be along the lines of Beautiful Creatures. Darker and very very Southern. In my opinion, this book made my expectations, with enough voice to make it different and stand out from the crowd. I was interested to see how this book came out because I actually had to work up the nerve to read it! I won Kristi’s giveaway for signed books at the Girls Taking Over the World signings and she picked me up a signed copy, so I didn’t want to wrinkle the spine or anything! I decided to read this book when I was in Clemson visiting my sister because I wanted to read it in a Southern atmosphere.

I’m actually rather bummed that I haven’t heard much about this before. I hadn’t even heard of it before Kristi’s giveaway! It’s one of those books that has just flown under the radar, which needs to change. This book is one that should be on more shelves. It was excellent.

I dont usually read ghost stories. I do, but not as often as I read say, books about vampires or angels or witches. Ghosts can be boring sometimes, but not when Saundra tells the story.

First, I’d like to talk about Saundra’s voice. Iris is kind of sheltered and very polite. She’s raised the Southern way but is plenty curious. Many girls might be embarrassed to be caught playing imaginary games in a graveyard at age fourteen, but not Iris. She was young in her heart. She was naïve, but understood things well enough that she could piece together information easily. It was nice to read about a girl so uninterested in what other people thought of her, and so full of imagination. I don’t know if I could be that self-confident!

Collette and Ben added diversity to the story. I wasn’t really expecting Ben to be a huge part of the story in the beginning, so it was a surprise to me when he became as wrapped in the ghost story as Iris and Collette. I’m not gonna lie, Collette could be so obnoxious sometimes. I really didn’t like how she tried to boss Iris around all the time. There was this one quote from her that hit me hard, because I used to hope that I could be like Iris and be special enough to discover magic and such. When I was younger, I was convinced that I was Harry Potter’s secret sister. So when Collette said this, I was upset by that.

“You’re just trying to be special, and you’re not.”

At first I thought that this book would have nothing like me in there, but Saundra Mitchell has a full understanding of the way that preteen and teen minds work. Every once in a while, a phrase or sentence would pop out at me and I’d just be like “Whoah, that’s exactly what I feel.” She also managed to pull out the perfect words in this. I know that I get stuck using the same words during reviews sometimes (thesaurus, anyone?) and I’ll just pop out “amazing” and “stunning” and “pleasantly surprising”. It was amazing fantastic to stumble upon a new way of describing something.

I was actually expecting the plot to be rather slow, but it grew throughout the book. What started at the beginning as a game ended with a full-blown murder mystery! New clues and suspicions escalated until I was biting my nails. While still exciting, there was a languid nature about this book that made it relaxing to read. Although a fast read, I wanted to go through it slowly and savor it.

I also liked the small-town nature. It almost felt stuck in time, with a bit of a vintage feel. It’s expected in a Southern book, but soon we discover that almost everybody has skeletons in their closets. There were crazy Southern ladies, and charming gentlemen, and protective fathers that made the perfect atmosphere for this kind of story. Secret loves and prejudice were a subtle undercurrent in the background that added to the suspicion but weren’t the main focus of the plot. I loved it.

The writing…oh, the writing. It focused on the immediate situation and didn’t get sidetracked, but it was so nice to read. It flowed so easily and I didn’t have to think things through in my head because I was confused. It was very clear and concise while still giving us more than what we asked for. This book has made me relax for the first time in weeks.

Elijah…I couldn’t tell whether I liked him or not. He did seem kind of “mean” (in Iris’s words) and although we see a lot of him in the beginning, his appearances kind of dissipate towards the end. Then it’s more like vague feelings that Iris understands about him. I couldn’t really tell whether it was her subconscious or actually the ghost of Elijah talking to her. It was kind of that unanswered question that each person decides, to each their own, and it wasn’t annoying at all. Sometimes I get irritated when people straddle the line but it actually only added to the enjoyment in this book.

I do wish that it had been longer though, because I didn’t want to let go of the characters. Iris and the rest of them really grew on me. I really enjoyed the whole world contained in the book. I felt like it was a different reality than I know. I do know Southern (from my family) but I don’t live in a small town. There was a closeness and mutual understanding that was great to read about.

This book is so calming and beautiful to read. Saundra Mitchell has gone above and beyond with this debut. The enthralling plot, startling undercurrents, and calming atmosphere make it blissful.

Recommended for anybody who loves: The Splendor Falls; Beautiful Creatures; Because of Winn-Dixie; Southern books; ghost stories; etc,.

Possible book club questions:

What do you think about Elijah towards the end: subconscious or there?
Why do you think the police weren’t more interested?
Discuss stereotypes and ingrained ideas about people. How does this fit into the dynamics of the town and how does it affect the book?
Do you think Collette is a good friend? Why or why not?
Do you think that Collette was jealous that she wasn’t special?
How do you think Ben will affect Collette and Iris’s friendship?
Do you think Elijah was mean or nice?
How do you think Iris and her father’s relationship grew throughout the book?

Etc,.

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