Gr 10 Up—In this darkly different novel on faith and family, siblings Lee and Murphy lose their mother to a tragic car accident. They run away from their Mississippi home to avoid adoption by their abusive stepfather. They hope to find refuge with an estranged grandmother, but what they discover in the ironically allegorical town of Benign, LA, is far from safe. Murphy becomes increasingly distant while Lee's troubling visions become stronger, with the line between light and darkness blurring. As Lee gains a cult following as a prophet, spiritual ethics are threaded with mystery. Almost succeeding in engaging lovers of multiple genres, Cajoleas's novel creates a realistically haunting environment and generates eerie philosophical questions and remarkably complex main characters, without achieving the potential intensity inherent in the story. Threat is ominously present from the first sentence, but the slow build culminates in a brief, somewhat unsatisfying climax. VERDICT A supplemental purchase for libraries where novels like Karen Russell's Swamplandia! are popular.—Claire Covington, Broadway High School, VA
After his mother's death in a car accident, a lonely and introspective teen's unusual gift leads him down a winding road of startling revelation.
Poet Lee Sanford, no stranger to visions, had a vision of his mother's death before it happened, and he and his snarky younger sister, Murphy, suspect their tyrannical stepfather, Horace (aka the county sheriff), might be responsible. In a panic, they knock him down, steal his Trans Am, and head to the Farm, their estranged grandmother's remote homestead and former commune in blighted Benign, Louisiana. Grandma welcomes them and encourages Lee to explore his visions and commune with the Spirit that exists in the natural world. Murphy thinks Grandma is hiding something (the barn is locked up tight), but Lee is filled with new purpose. Questions arise from Lee's visions of his deceased uncle, the blond, blue-eyed Jeremiah, who was a revered evangelist, and Lee is captivated by Jeremiah's tape-recorded sermons, which he finds hidden. He also develops feelings for his Grandma's tenant, Cass. Soon, however, events take an ominous turn, a rift grows between Lee and Murphy, and he faces shattering choices. Cajoleas' (The Good Demon, 2018, etc.) atmospheric, often bloody, tale, steeped in mysticism and the occult, raises questions of fate, belonging, acceptance, and spirituality, and Lee's narrative will resonate with anyone who has ever felt left out. All characters are assumed white.
Harrowing and hypnotic. (Horror. 13-adult)