By Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee
Walker Books, 2016
When you open the pages of this book you enter a small and very beautiful world. A rural Vermont winter, two sisters - Sylvie (12) and Jules (11), talk of their mother who died suddenly some years before. They have small mementos of her, and a large collection of rocks which Jules in particular is very attached to. Sylvie's obsession is running, determined to run faster and faster, though never quite explaining why. Their father has set rules about where they are allowed to go - not out of earshot of the house, and never to the slip, where the Whippoorwill River disappears under the ground. But in spite of the rules, the girls have been casting 'wish rocks' (special stones with wishes written on them) into the slip for a long time. On the first snowy day of the story, the girls are getting ready for school, but Sylvie is determined to put another rock into the slip and runs fast to do so... and never returns.
The sadness is unbearable for father and daughter who have already lost a wife/mother, and now daughter/sister. The father's manner with his daughters throughout is gentle, patient, full of sadness, but also ever-loving.
The other thread of the story follows a fox cub, a girl with two brothers. I loved learning about what their lives are like - born deep underground, sleeping close together, investigating the world above when they are old enough. The mother fox knows her daughter, Senna, is different, she is a 'kennen' - an animal with a special purpose, linked in spirit to another. When she hears Jules crying out for Sylvie, Senna is irresistibly drawn to her and together they have a mission to accomplish.
Three other characters have important roles - Sam is best friends with the two girls, with his own great wish to see a catamount. He is also younger brother to Elk, who comes home from fighting in Afghanistan, but without his life-long friend Zeke, and seems to be permanently mourning his loss, cutting him off from Sam. Zeke's mother, with her own sadness, helps with minding Jules after the disaster, a comforting motherly figure, but one who doesn't always keep a close eye on Jules.
As Jules works through her grief she decides on a path of action, one that requires going outside of the boundaries of the restricted area her father has allowed her to be in, searching for a mysterious place.
There is sorrow, danger, curiosity and courage too, and a spiritual element as real as any other that brings the story to a tear-inducing climax. Sadness seems to emanate from every page, but there is also the constant of the strong bonds between sisters, father-daughter, brothers, friends, fox sister and brother, fox and girl.
Beautifully written by this award-winning duo. i'm trying to find out more about how they did this; it can't have been easy to write together, but they have created an exceptional novel I'd recommend for 10+.
I also have to give a mention to the irresistible cover, and occasional chapter heading illustrations of rocks, the work of Robert Farkas.
Watch the beautiful book trailer: