A touching story of friendship, magic, and bonds that last forever.
By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner's destiny, she can't see anything. Maybe it's because she can't get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously.
Sky was Spirit's loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blameexcept for Spirit. Then Sky's ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it's too late. Spirit's Key is a touching and magical middle grade debut by Edith Cohn.
“Psychics, ghost dogs, and mystery galore. Cohn has told a story like no other.” Barbara O’Connor, author of How to Steal a Dog
About the Author
Edith Cohn was born and raised in North Carolina, where she grew up visiting the unique beaches of the Outer Banks. She currently lives in the coyote-filled hills of Los Angeles with her husband and her dog, Leia. All of these things provided inspiration for Spirit's Key, her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
MR. SELNICK’S FUTURE
When I get home from school, every cabinet in the kitchen has been thrown open. There’s a mess in the living room, too.
“Looking for something?” I ask Dad.
He runs his hands through his normally neat hair, which at the moment sticks frantic in every direction. “Have you seen the candles?”
“I think they’re in my room. I’ll check. Is the power going to go out?”
Dad shakes his head. “Someone’s coming for a reading.”
My heart flip-flops with excitement. “Eder Mint?” Eder used to be Dad’s best client. But not even Eder has been in for a reading lately. It’s been two months, the longest stretch without business since we moved to this island. That was six years ago, before people came to trust that what Dad sees, happens.
“No, Mr. Selnick. He’s coming any minute,” Dad says, “and I need those candles.”
I dash to my room. Most everything we own is hidden in boxes. Dad likes to order supplies in large quantities. His stockpiling has created mountains of cardboard that rise up every wall.
Each room in our house is painted a different color, and mine is purple. These days, though, I have to lean my head waaay back to see the color, because Dad’s mountains go waaay up.
I dig fast, cutting the packing tape off box after box. “Found them!” I yell. Dad doesn’t mess around. There are enough candles here to light the whole island. I grab two, along with a burgundy bedsheet.
“What’s that?” Dad eyes the bedsheet with suspicion.
“I thought it might look nice draped on the table.” I shake out the sheet and cover the dinky card table with it. “See?” I stand back to admire it. “Now you have a little atmosphere.”
Dad frowns and mutters something about mumbo jumbo. Candles, atmosphere, and crystal balls are what Dad calls mumbo jumbo. That stuff is for hacks, and Dad is not a hack. He asks to hold a person’s house key, the kind you use to open your front door, and as soon as the key is in his hand, bam! He knows.
It used to be that simple.
It used to be Dad didn’t need mumbo jumbo.
“You’re tapping into your power, is all,” I insist. “And it might help to dress things up a bit.” I place the candles inside two holders and arrange them in the center of the table. “Nice, right?”
“I’m tired just looking at it,” Dad says.
I snap my fingers. “Coffee. You need coffee.” I rush to the kitchen to make him a pot.
Dad also didn’t use to need coffee in the afternoon. But lately nothing’s like usual. Dad is tired. He has trouble concentrating, and usually this soon after school I wouldn’t be home to help him. I’d be out with my dog, Sky, running up and down the sand dunes. Or swimming in the ocean. Or bicycling, with Sky running alongside, or …
Well, the point is I’d be with Sky. And Dad would be breezing through his readings instead of scrunching up his face, worrying he won’t get it right.
When the coffee is finished, I bring Dad a cup, but he doesn’t drink it. He catches a glimpse of himself in the hall mirror. He tucks in his shirt and presses down his hair. He restacks some boxes to make them tall and orderly.
Finally, he sits down and takes a deep breath, but his foot doesn’t stop tapping. There’s sweat inside the wrinkles on his forehead, and when Mr. Selnick bangs on the door, Dad knocks over a chair standing up to answer.
When Mr. Selnick comes inside, I set the chair back upright. The big man takes off his hat and plops down like he’s relieved to have the weight of the world off his feet. “Thanks, honey,” he says.
My name isn’t Honey. It’s Spirit. Spirit Holden. But Mr. Selnick calls everyone honey. Mr. Selnick is our neighbor three houses down and one across. I wonder what’s up. Dad has regulars, and then there are people who come only if something’s wrong.
Mr. Selnick hands Dad his house key, which is my cue to skedaddle. But my foot lands on one of Sky’s squeak toys. It makes the worst kind of noise in the silence and brings back the pain of Sky’s death like a crashing wave.
Dad doesn’t notice. He’s busy lighting the candles. The light reflects off the bedsheet and casts a strange red color on Mr. Selnick’s face.
I pick up the squeak toy, a stuffed pheasant. Sky’s things are still the way they were when he was alive. The pheasant seems to look at me sternly with its yellow-stitched eyes, like it would disapprove if I threw it away. It was Sky’s favorite toy.
I set it on the bookcase. I’m about to leave, but I pause when I hear Dad say something about a baldie.
“I don’t think this dead baldie in your yard means a negative future for you personally.” Dad scratches his head. “But I’m not sure.”
I shouldn’t eavesdrop. Dad caught me once when I was little, and he said listening to his private readings was like peeking at someone’s diary. Holding a person’s key, he said, I see everything they lock up. People trust me with their most private secrets.
Even though I wouldn’t tell anyone, it isn’t fair for me to know Mr. Selnick’s inner secrets.
But another dead baldie? Baldies are what people call the wild island dogs. We have bald eagles, too, which is how Bald Island got its name. But people call eagles sacred creatures. The dogs are the baldies, because they’re unique to our island. No one else in the world has dogs like ours.
Sky was a baldie. And anything to do with Sky has to do with me, so I don’t leave. I press up against the wall next to the bookcase with Sky’s pheasant.
“Not sure?” Mr. Selnick asks. “Is there something wrong with my key? This one’s a copy. Victor made it for me. Did Hatterask mess up my key?”
“No, no, your key’s fine. Don’t worry.” But Dad pushes Mr. Selnick’s folded money back across the table. “This reading is on the house.”
Dad never does readings on the house. His readings pay for our house and every box in it. I get that same sweaty feeling I got the day Sky wasn’t waiting for me after school. Like something’s bad wrong and I need to stick my head in the freezer to cool off and think clear.
Mr. Selnick is about twice as big as Dad. His gut sticks out under his folded arms like a shelf, and his large shoulders square back like he means not to leave until Dad spits out something more specific. “Whatever it is, you best lay it to me straight.”
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.”
Text copyright © 2014 by Edith Cohn
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hooray for a well-crafted, haunting, dog book that doesn't make you cry! This book is for every dreamer and wonder-er. For kids who love dogs or a good mystery or interesting magic - or all three! It's full of magical moments set firmly in the fascinating world of Bald Island - populated by wild dogs and superstitious islanders. The relationship between Spirit and her dog, Sky, is spot-on. Clearly influenced by Ingrid Law's terrific book,Savvy, Spirit's Key is part magic, part mystery, part homage to dogs. I loved the haunting setting. Edith Cohn's world-building is outstanding. This tight-knit community reminds me of the wonderful Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street." Both stories ring of McCarthyism and group-think. It's amazing to me how carefully Cohn built the community's paranoia so that it seems somehow superstitious and outrageous, but also totally plausible. And she keeps all of this completely accessible to young readers. My only beef is that the Big Reveal is a bit too ta-da for me. Everything wraps up quickly in a neat little package. More tension in the ending would have fit better with the tone of the rest of the book. Highly recommended for readers in grades 4-7