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The Spirit Window

The Spirit Window

4.6 11
by Joyce Sweeney

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On the edge of a Florida marsh, a young girl discovers the power of nature

After hours on the highway, Miranda is beginning to doubt that there is anything beautiful in Florida. But when her dad turns onto the bridge to Turtle Island and she sees the ocean for the very first time, she realizes she couldn’t have been more wrong.


On the edge of a Florida marsh, a young girl discovers the power of nature

After hours on the highway, Miranda is beginning to doubt that there is anything beautiful in Florida. But when her dad turns onto the bridge to Turtle Island and she sees the ocean for the very first time, she realizes she couldn’t have been more wrong.
Miranda has come here with her dad to meet her grandmother, whose cheerful energy conceals failing health. Miranda has been dreading this family vacation, but what she finds on Turtle Island will change her life forever.
Her grandmother is the self-appointed guardian of the local marsh, a swampy wonderland whose very existence is in jeopardy. A passionate photographer, Miranda plans only to document the landscape. But when a mysterious young boy named Adam draws her into the fight for the marsh’s future, she learns that saving the environment can be a matter of life or death.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Beth E. Andersen
With her mother dead ten years and Richard, her psychiatrist father, recently married to the too young, too spoiled Ariel, fifteen-year-old Amanda is not thrilled to be traveling from their Cincinnati home to Florida to see her paternal grandmother Lila. Richard, estranged from his mother since his wife died, wishes to make amends before Lila's fragile heart, damaged beyond repair by an earlier heart attack, gives out for good. Lila and Amanda discover an immediate, affectionate rapport. On the other hand, Amanda gets off to quite a rocky start with older Adam, Lila's part Cherokee, part Irish live-in assistant who shares Lila's commitment to holding developers at bay and preserving the natural beauty of her property. Richard's greedier, more heartless plans for his expected inheritance shake the delicate family truce, putting Amanda squarely in the impossible middle of familial loyalty and her deepening, important romance with Adam. When tragedy strikes, a legal twist exacerbates frayed nerves and Amanda's world flies apart, forcing her to make hard choices between love and ethics. A gentle story about two adolescents far wiser and more mature than the adults in their lives. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10Fifteen-year-old Miranda, her father, and stepmother are spending time in Florida with dying, estranged, (and wealthy) Grandma Lila. Miranda's father hasn't seen his mother in 10 years, and the reason for this drives the story. Lila lives on a large tract of undeveloped marshland and her intent, as well as that of handsome Native American yard-worker Adam, is to preserve it. Miranda's father and his old high school buddy have commercial plans for the land when Lila dies. Relationships are made and destroyed overnight as Miranda falls for Adam, discovers a wonderful woman in her grandmother, empathizes with her young stepmother, sees a new side to her father, and finally remembers her long-dead mother. Miranda is a budding photographer; Sweeney uses this device to capture physical scenes and emotional moments. The characters have depth, and the teen's steps toward womanhood are touching. Though the writing is not taut, the plot is gripping and holds a few surprises. A love story, a mystery, and a spiritual journey combine to make this a satisfying read.Angela J. Reynolds, West Slope Community Library, Portland, OR

Product Details

Open Road Media Teen & Tween
Publication date:
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Barnes & Noble
File size:
579 KB
Age Range:
12 - 16 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Spirit Window

By Joyce Sweeney


Copyright © 1998 Joyce Sweeney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0423-7


"A few more miles and we'll be off the turnpike. That's when you'll start to see the real Florida!"

Miranda, sprawled on the backseat, didn't even bother to look. For the first eight hours they'd been in Florida, she had dutifully checked the view every time her father made an optimistic remark. It had always been the same—scruffy pine trees and gathering storm clouds. Once, a huge, careening bird that looked exactly like a vulture. This was the real Florida. The postcards were a lie.

"I think I can smell the ocean," he continued.

"Honey, shut up. Everyone's tired." This was Ariel's voice. Miranda was surprised. Her stepmother had been asleep since Ocala, when the factory outlet billboards started to dwindle. The wind had sucked a skein of Ariel's bright gold hair out the window. It whipped the side of the car as if it wanted back in. Extreme despair, Miranda thought, when Ariel doesn't care what her hair is doing.

"Now!" her father cried, like a magician reaching into a hat.

Miranda sat up. They were exiting the Florida Turnpike. The road ahead was framed by flashing tollbooths. She wound the strap of her Nikon around her hand, in case the splendors of the "real Florida" were about to explode in front of them.

The toll collector was a young man with a pink tank top and twenty-inch dreadlocks. Miranda slid to the left, trying to pull him into focus. He was the most interesting sight since Georgia. Happily, her father was creating a distraction.

"We're from Cincinnati," he chirped, offering a folded ten-dollar bill. "And we can't get over your beautiful weather!"

The young man actually flinched. "My weather!" he said. A starburst of lines crossed his forehead. Miranda shot the picture. With any luck, she had caught the toll collector's frown and her father's fading smile. "In like ten minutes, it's going to rain cats!" He counted out their change.

Miranda's father struggled to communicate. "I meant the warmth. It's so warm."

The toll collector made a little three-fingered sweep, a gesture between a salute and a push. "People waiting behind you, sir."

They entered the real Florida. A two-lane road bordered by the same scraggly pine trees. Miranda took a picture she could use later in life when she confronted her father with all his mistakes. He had told Miranda he encouraged his patients to sit down with their parents and go over all the grievances of childhood. It sounded like a great idea.

Ariel, meanwhile, had reached a cranky overload. "Do you have to make a fool of yourself everywhere you go, Richard?"

He turned a half-profile toward his young wife. Miranda thought he looked handsome and fired off a shot, hoping the overcast light would halo his face. "I don't think I made a fool of myself," he said. "Miranda? Did I make a fool of myself?"

Before Miranda could answer, Ariel went on. "We're in south Florida now, Rich. That guy could have been a Jamaican terrorist with a gun."

Jamaican terrorist? Miranda thought. It would take too much energy to discuss it, though. Instead, she took Ariel's picture. Ariel looked interesting when she was angry. Like an angel spitting or a marble statue flipping the bird.

"Hey! Cut it out! My hair is all over the place."

"It looks sexy," Miranda's father said.

Ariel finger-combed her hair, shaping it into a horsetail, which she began to braid. "Close up the car, Richard," she grumbled. "In a minute, it's going to rain cats!"

"How far are we from Grandma's?" Miranda asked over the whine of the car sealing itself. "Why don't we stop and eat something? I feel like we've been in this car all our lives."

"No, no, we're practically there! Ari, look at the map. I think we're just on this road for a few minutes, then A1A to the causeway, and boom, we're on Turtle Island."

Miranda slumped in her seat. She was trapped in a children's book. Raining Cats on Turtle Island. She thought of all the things she could be doing right now if she were back in Cincinnati. Cruising the malls with her best friend, Ginger, swimming, taking a summer photography clinic. Miranda didn't even know where she would get chemicals here. Turtle Island probably had a nice little Eckerd's or something where ladies like her grandmother had pictures of their cats developed.

"Why are we in this forest, Rich?" Ariel pried open a bobby pin with her teeth and speared her braid, securing it against the nape of her neck. "Where am I going to go shopping in this hellhole?"

Richard suddenly raised his voice. "Look! My mother could be dying, all right? We're going here because my mother has refused to speak to me most of my adult life and now she's apparently willing to, and I thought, what the heck, it might be good to try and make peace with my only living parent—excuse me—my only living relative before she leaves this world. How selfish of me! If this is too much of a nuisance to you, we'll turn the car around and go on a really fun vacation!"

Ariel went stiff during this speech, but Miranda felt strangely excited. Her father rarely lost control, but when he did, he seemed more alive. She wanted to take a picture of him, his shoulders stiff with anger, his blue eyes blazing a challenge to Ariel ... but of course she couldn't.

Ariel turned from him to face the greenish black sky ahead. "Oh, I guess I'm some kind of unsupportive bitch," she said.

Already back to professionalism, he appeared to count a few beats before murmuring, "I didn't say that, Ari."

Ariel looked sideways at him—a beautiful, surly child.

Richard smiled—a warm, forgiving father.

Where am I in all this? Miranda wondered. Oh, yes, the photographer. She focused on the stormy sky between them, and the Nikon let out a defiant whir.

Both of them turned on her. The car swerved as a skeleton of lightning tore through the blackness in the east. "Shit!" Richard faced the road again.

Thunder exploded.

"Shit!" Ariel shrieked.

Miranda began firing shots, hoping to catch the lightning. Whir, whir, flash, crack, whir.

"Pull over!" Ariel said. "I'm freaking out!"

"We're grounded in the car," he answered. "It's the safest place you can be."

The sky darkened a half tone, and a wall of rain closed off the horizon. "Yipe!" Miranda's father swung the Volvo onto the shoulder, parallel parking with other stranded motorists. Rain hammered the roof. The hazard lights in front of them were liquid and wavery. Beyond that, they could see nothing. Miranda capped her lens and realized that her father had said Grandma was his only living relative. Which was worse? That he seemed to forget Miranda existed? Or that she didn't think to call him on it?

After about twenty minutes, the rain slacked off and the cars around them came back to life. "That's the good thing about a tropical rain," Richard said as they plunged back into the tree corridor. "It passes so quickly. Look, the sun is coming out. Maybe we'll see a rainbow!"

"Oh, look, Toto!" Ariel mocked. "Everything here is so different from Kansas!"

Richard looked at her with real anger. "Do you want to know what John Knowles said about sarcasm?"

"Uh-uh." Ariel rooted in her purse. "Want a Life Saver, Miranda? Since we don't get any food till Grandma's house."

"John Knowles said, 'Sarcasm is the protest of people who are weak.'"

Ariel jerked around, withdrawing the candy roll Miranda was reaching for. Yellow and green circles rolled across the console. "I am not weak! And don't you ever think you can talk to me that way, Doctor, because I am not one of your patients!"

A shaft of sunlight pierced the sky. Something made Miranda look to her left and see a pink-and-green ribbon arching through the clouds. She grabbed the Nikon, tilted and fired. Maybe she could do a series on rainbows! What a great idea for black and white. Unless they wouldn't show up at all. "Is Grandma a good cook?" she asked. She had only visited her grandmother once, when she was four or five, and didn't remember anything about it. After that, her mother died and then there had been some kind of big blowup that went on until this past spring, when Lila invited them to spend the summer. Miranda planned to investigate the whole quarrel by pumping her grandmother for information.

Richard was making a turn. "She's a fabulous cook. She loves to cook."

"I bet she's gonna hate me," Ariel sighed. "You guys! Look!"

Suddenly they were beside the Atlantic Ocean. Just like that. It was a jolt! Miranda had trouble catching her breath. She had only seen the ocean on TV, and this was nothing like the placid turquoise beach of Baywatch. This was such a deep blue it appeared black, churning and foaming, rising up and slapping itself, roaring so loudly the sound penetrated the sealed car. "Open up!" Miranda knocked on her window.

"And the roof!" Ariel cried.

The windows opened and a fresh, weedy-smelling wind tumbled in, ripping Ariel's chignon to shreds, rattling the road map. A seagull flew beside the car, bobbing like a marionette. Miranda fired a shot and came to the end of her roll. "Shoot!" She fumbled in her duffel bag.

"I think I'm going to cry!" Ariel said. She had grown up in Los Angeles.

There were more shots than Miranda could catch—palm trees, beach people, boats, surfers. She visualized the black-and-white results and was thrilled—the black waves, edged in silver white, the turbulent swirls of gray sky, the gulls like handkerchiefs, floating over dunes. "Daddy, you were right! The real Florida is beautiful!"

Richard was swerving out of his lane, craning his neck to look at the ocean. "Thank god!" he said. "If we'd been in those hammocks a minute longer, I knew you girls were going to mutiny on me! I can't even recognize landmarks anymore, everything is so built up. I hope I can see the road to the causeway...."

Miranda realized she was the odd one here. Ariel and her father had both grown up with beaches. Only she was a true city person. "When you guys were kids, did you hang out on the beach?"

"I did," Ariel said. "We'd get out of school and go straight to Santa Monica until dinnertime. And the same thing on Saturdays."

"On Saturdays, I'd walk around the island," Richard said. "All the way around the perimeter. It took all day, but it was a different experience every time. All the little coves and inlets, the marina, the marsh where the birds had nesting grounds ..."

"Wow," Miranda said, although she couldn't really picture it. What kind of birds? Normal birds like she knew or giant pink flamingoes?

"Here's the causeway." Richard's voice was low.

It was a long silver bridge. The car swung east into a magenta sunset. The rails of the bridge flashed above tangerine water. Miranda almost regretted not having any color film.

A flock of something like pterodactyls slowly flapped across their path.

"What ...?" Miranda squeaked.

"Pelicans, sweetie," Ariel said. "We had those in California. But when we get to the real Florida birds, you'll have to ask your dad. I don't know an egret from a spoonbill."

"I'm afraid I've forgotten it all." Miranda heard a quaver in her father's voice. "See ahead?" he asked. "There's Turtle Island."

An irregular landmass resolved on the horizon. A striped lighthouse stood to the right of the bridge above a collection of white sails bobbing in the water. The rest of the island was a murky canopy of trees. The east was purple now. All the birds had left the sky.

Miranda capped her lens and stowed the Nikon in her duffel bag.

Ariel's manicured hand rested on Richard's shoulder. "Does it feel like home, Rich?"

He nodded, apparently unable to speak. His free hand came up to touch Ariel's. Miranda wondered for the millionth time what to make of her father's second marriage.

The bridge came to an end and they were on the island, winding down dark residential streets. Miranda realized there were no streetlights.

"Grandma's house is at the far end of the island," Richard said. "The marsh area. You won't be able to really appreciate it in the dark."

Ariel was caressing his shoulder. "Was Jasmine from the island, too?" Jasmine was Miranda's mother.

"No, I met Jazz in college in Gainesville. She came from Tampa. Different world."

"The trees look spooky," Miranda said.

"Spanish moss," her father said. "These are mostly cypress, some live oaks, a few sea grapes—god, it seems like another lifetime!"

"It was, Rich." Ariel's fingers squeezed gently and let go. She turned to Miranda in the backseat and winked. "I guess we're not in Kansas anymore, are we, Toto?"


The island was almost free of traffic, magnifying the croaks and squeaks in the woods. A half-moon edged between the clouds and silvered the moss-fringed trees. Something in the woods called out like an oboe.

They turned onto a new road, deep in the woods. At the end of that road stood a large white house with a pillared veranda, with some kind of shack off to the side. A pickup truck sat in the gravel driveway. Behind the house was a wall of cypress with a big spreading tree of some kind in the center. Good composition, Miranda thought, horizontal and vertical.

"This is it," Richard said. "Home."

Ariel flicked open the vanity mirror and began feverishly repairing her hair. "How do I look, you guys?"

"Great," Miranda said. "I promise."

Ariel turned around. A perfect white tooth bit into her perfect red lip. "Not like a bimbo or anything?"

"Don't be silly," Richard said. "Mom's going to love you."

It was contagious. Miranda ran a hand over her own spiky haircut. "Do I look all right?"

"Of course," her father said without turning around. "Listen, you guys. Mom is eighty years old. She's had a heart attack. She won't be that much aware of things." He pulled onto the gravel and cut the engine.

The door of the house flew open and a plump woman in a printed sarong bounded out. "Richie!"

It must be a neighbor who's taking care of Grandma, Miranda thought as the woman trotted down the steps. A string of multicolored beads bounced in and out of her cleavage. Grandma is frail and lying in a darkened room like I pictured her.

But Miranda's father was struggling up out of the car and accepting a bone-crushing hug with the eager stiffness he always showed in times of emotion. "Mom," he said softly. "You look fabulous."

"Hug me back, you idiot!" the woman commanded. "The war is over!"

Richard broke down and cried. "Oh, Mom."

Miranda and Ariel got out of the car, shooting nervous glances at each other. Miranda stepped closer to her grandmother, firing off pictures in her head of the deeply lined, tanned face, the thick, wavy white hair pulled back in a loose knot. This woman looked about fifty and could not possibly have had a heart attack. Up close, she smelled like some kind of spicy flower. Miranda found herself drifting forward, almost wanting to push her father out of the way.

Her grandmother looked at her. "Oh, Rich! Is this Miranda?"

Richard moved aside as Miranda threw herself into the warm, scented flesh. "Grandma!" she said in a childlike voice.

The little woman hugged her and held her out for inspection. "She's beautiful, Richard. Just like Jasmine, only more boyish, you know? Those same gazelle eyes! Shame on you for keeping her from me all these years!"

"You're the one—" he began.

"Never mind!" A plump hand flew up. "I promised myself not to get into all that. Oh, my goodness, Richard, is that your new wife standing there looking terrified? For heaven's sake introduce me!"

Miranda had never seen Ariel look so scared, including at the wedding last year. Ariel tugged at her short-shorts and pushed impatiently at a wisp of hair. "Hello, Mrs. Gates," she recited.

"Call me Lila!"

Ariel mumbled something about being pleased, while she was squashed.

"You didn't tell me Ariel was a knockout!" Lila scolded her son.

"Mom!" He sounded irritated. "We sent you the wedding pictures."

Lila had now deserted them to peer at something in the flower beds. She seemed to need to be in constant motion. "You can't tell from wedding pictures," she said. "They filter them."

"Ow!" Ariel slapped at her neck.

"Mosquitoes!" said Lila. "We'd better go in. Once they get the taste of you ..."

"I see that!" Ariel slapped her ankle.

Miranda loved the inside of her grandmother's house. Oriental rugs covered hardwood floors. The furniture was something warm-toned, like cherry or mahogany. A chandelier crowded with prisms hung in the foyer. Lila seemed to like crystal. There were bowls and vases everywhere, mirroring the lamplight and casting points of flame on the walls. A wonderful smell, bread and garlic and vegetables, came from the kitchen. Miranda felt puzzled, trying to remember if their condo in Cincinnati had a smell.


Excerpted from The Spirit Window by Joyce Sweeney. Copyright © 1998 Joyce Sweeney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joyce Sweeney is the author of fourteen books for young adults. Her novel Center Line won the first-annual Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel. Many of Sweeney’s works have appeared on the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults list. Her novel Shadow won the Nevada Young Readers’ Award in 1997, and Players was chosen by Booklist as a Top 10 Sports Book for Youth and by Working Mother magazine as a Top Ten for Tweens. Headlock won a silver medal in the 2006 Florida Book Awards and was chosen by the American Library Association as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Sweeney also writes short stories and poetry and conducts ongoing workshops in creative writing, which have so far produced forty published authors. She lives in Coral Springs, Florida, with her husband, Jay, and cat, Nitro.

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Spirit Window 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a geart book there should be a seconded book. The things that happen were real and real life things. The way the story was told all you can do is won't more. There should be a movie to go along with this book but, the movie would not do the book justice but it won't make a good movie. If you have not read The Spirit Window you are missing out on a good book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was the coolest book i've ever read. it was about a girl who went on vacation with her father and stepmother to see her grandmother and falls in love with a boy her grandmother adores.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a class project, and first off, i don't like to read, but this book was just great!!! i mean it just made me want to read more and more, i never put the book down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very good. I read it over like a million times and it still rocked. I got this book at the library and my mom shoved it into my hands and I thought it was going to be boring but it wasn't. It was GrEaT!!! I Reccomend it to EVERYONE!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books I've ever read!!! I wish that Joyce Sweeney would write a follow-up on it. I really want to know what happens with Miranda and Adam!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was more than great i can't really explain it but it pulled me into it the first time i picked up in the library. this is deffinetly a book that i would recommend to anybody that reads. I just wish i knew what happens after if she ever sees adam or marries him. I LOVE THIS BOOK !!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought it was great. I couldnt put it down. It doesnt have any suspense but I still liked it. I have read the bood 6 times so far. It kind of dragged a little bit in the middle but was still great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Despite the other customer reviews for this book, I think it was outstanding. If you ask me, the 'Spirit Window' didn't play a REALLY big part in the story, so this is why some of the ghost-lovers might have felt disappointed. I finished the book in one day, not meaning it was short, but it was so good that I couldn't put it down. It centered a lot on a girl and her feelings toward her family and friends, but it also branched out into the area of death and the afterlife. If you are a person who is into books about a girl's feelings on death, her family, her boyfriend, and herself, this book is for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Spirit Window at the begining sounded alright but as you keep reading all it does is drag out events in the story and repeat the same things over and over.There is no suspence or not knowing what will happen.To me this book was not well written or relayed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Spirit is one of my favorite books. I read it in less than 3 days, I just couldn't put it down. Read this book, you won't be dissapointed
Guest More than 1 year ago
It it is so cool! It is very will written. Though I usally don't read this kind of book, I usally read fantasy with dragons and knights, but this book really held me captive so to speak. It's a great book, brilliant story line, diffently worth checking out. I recommend it for no younger than 12. It's a great book, I love it!