Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin, illus. by Lisa Brown (Sourcebooks Fire, $14.99, 9781402237126/140223712X, 272 pp., ages 12-up, May 2010)
Adele Griffin here combines the supernatural elements she explored in The Other Shepards and the war themes of Sons of Liberty to chilling and riveting effect. Sixteen-year-old narrator Jennie Lovell, in the space of five years, has lost both of her parents and her twin brother, Toby, who joined the army to become a Union scout. But he died on his sickbed before he ever got a chance to spy on the Rebs. After their parents' death, Jennie and Toby had gone to live with their mother's half-brother, Henry Pritchett, and his wife, Clara, in the elite Boston suburb of Brookline, Mass. Henry lets his wife run the show, and she's none too kind to Jennie, and not so happy about Jennie's engagement to their older son, Will. When their younger son, Quinn, returns, injured, from the war--and Will does not--Jennie's fate hangs in the balance.
Griffin smoothly weaves together the growing popularity of the Spiritualist movement (whose followers believed that people lived on after death and could be contacted through mediums) with breakthroughs in photography as Henry Pritchett pursues his desire to contact his dead son. Heinrich Geist, both a photographer and a medium, tells the family he can reunite them with Will through his "spirit photographs." Jennie has always been attuned to her brother, Toby, and receives messages from him ("He has brought me closer to the other side, and I know that I'm changed"), and she is certain that she feels Will's presence in Geist's studio--an experience she shares with no one. Other than the visits to Geist's studio, Jennie becomes increasingly confined to the Pritchett house. As she tends to Quinn's eye injury, changing his bandages and checking on him frequently, the two slowly become closer. At the same time, she begins having strange dreams about Will that lead her to find a locket that she had given him buried in the backyard; Quinn had led her to believe it had been lost at war. The author convincingly portrays a heroine with such an overwhelming sense of loss and need to connect that she overlooks the signs along the way that Quinn is hiding something from her. Lisa Brown's drawings, which evoke the period and also act as faux facsimiles of Jennie's scrapbook, elevate the suspense and contribute to this gripping novel's Daphne Du Maurier-like aura. --Jennifer M. Brown
Causes Adele Griffin Supports
Brooklyn Historical Society
Harlem Village Academies
Boys Latin School of Philadelphia