Many a time growing up I waited with my mother for my father to arrive. He would have been called away from his job in a small town near our small town. My mother needed his key. We had been locked out of our house or our car. This unwelcome ability has to be genetic.
I've lost count of the number of times I have had to jimmy a window, crawling through tiny openings and dropping down unsafe distances, card doorways and become best friends with the local locksmith. Locks and keys are my downfall. My new best friends are deadbolt keypad locks. Never are keys as important as when they are lost or fail to work properly.
The word key, besides its obvious function, can be defined as instrumental or pivotal in a variety of situations; the legend on a map, the way to recognize or categorize items, or decode a language or series of symbols. In Edith Cohn's debut novel, Spirit's Key (Farrar Straus Giroux), the value of household keys is crucial to the survival of many. There is more to unlock in this story than doors though; superstition, magic and mystery wrap themselves around Bald Island like natural elements.
When I get home from school, every cabinet in the kitchen has been thrown open. There's a mess in the living room, too.
Twelve-year-old Spirit Holden's father has been going through the stacks of boxes, floor to ceiling, in every room of their home. He believes in being overly-prepared for every possible situation which may or may not occur on their island. His gift, being able to see someone's future by holding the key to their house, has lately been in need of assistance or what he calls, mumbo jumbo. A neighbor is due to arrive soon and he decides to use candles to create the appropriate atmosphere.
On this day many thoughts swirl around in Spirit's mind, her father's waning talent, the late arrival of her own abilities (generations of Holden's have been able to predict the future) and the absence of her dog, Sky. It's been fourteen days since Sky's death and the sorrow weighs heavily on her heart. Six years ago, when she and her father came to the island, Sky, an island dog, a baldie, was found ill beneath their house. After nursing him back to health, none of the islanders accepted him or understood, as Spirit did, his gentle nature. Island legends told for centuries named the wild dogs as evil spirits.
Now another baldie has been found dead near their neighbor's home, away from the forest where they normally live. Even stranger is the unexplained illness of the man who found the dead baldie. As more people become sick and additional baldies are found dead, Spirit feels compelled to discover the truth before decisions based upon superstition and lack of knowledge endanger the entire population. She will not be alone in her search; Sky is back.
Edith Cohn certainly knows how to create a page-turner. The descriptions of the physical setting reflect her childhood adventures on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Unexplained packages and notes, the uncanny appearance of a bald eagle plus the power of Sky's grave site introduce marvelous moments of magic. Quirky characters with unusual names, whose thoughts, conversations and actions captivate, create a unique, memorable narrative. Some you will love, others you will grow to understand and a few are the kinds to be avoided.
Cohn propels the storyline forward with multiple (thirty) short chapters. Each ends with a moment which carries into the next seamlessly. This is why many, if not most, readers will find themselves reading this in a single sitting, even if it means staying up far into the early hours of the morning. Here are some sample passages taken from the book.
Dad takes a sip of coffee, then picks up Mr. Selnick's key again. He closes his eyes and begins to rock. Back and forth. Back and forth. Then he shakes like he's cold, shivering until he jumps up and drops the key on the table like it burned him.
"There's danger ahead."
"Dag-nab-it! I knew that baldie paws up in my yard was an omen." Mr. Selnick shakes his finger at the air. "I told my wife: The devil's after us."
"Get Jolie and the kids. Pack your bags."
"What?" Mr. Selnick looks dumbfounded.
Dad walks to the door. "You have to leave the island." He stares hard at Mr. Selnick. "Tonight."
" 'Course, child. Don't you believe in miracles?"
I dreamed Sky came back from the dead. It seemed like a miracle. "I believe in dreams."
"Wonderful! A dream and a miracle are sisters-practically twins. ..."
As I read through Spirit's Key written by Edith Cohn, like a desert survivor finally finding a cool drink of water, I could not help but think how many guys and gals are going to love this book. It has heart-stopping action, suspense, and just enough fantasy. The pacing is pure perfection. The relationships between family members and neighbors provide individual food for thought and the opportunity for great discussions in the classroom, book groups and for families using this as a daily read aloud. I advise you to give it a place on your professional and personal bookshelves. Oh...and you might want to have more than one copy on hand.
To discover more about Edith Cohn and the writing of this book please follow the link embedded in her name. There is so much to read on her website and blog. This link to the publisher's website provides you the first chapter to read. Here is a link to the Let's Get Busy podcast hosted by Matthew C. Winner, elementary teacher librarian, where he chats with Edith Cohn about this book.