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A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015
A Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2015
From a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her . . .
When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children in danger, she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent. They are warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.
After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams, asking for her help, she finds herself entangled in a world-famous thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance with the estate’s landscape architect—the warm and handsome Noah Palmer—bring much-needed healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined.
A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, The Gates of Evangeline is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won’t be able to put down.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Hester Young holds a master’s degree in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and her short stories have appeared in magazines such as Hawai‘i Review. Before turning to writing full-time, she worked as a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. She is also the author of the forthcoming novel The Shimmering Road. Young lives in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, with her husband and their two children.
Read an Excerpt
I can’t pinpoint the moment I cross over. It comes slowly: the seductive darkness, my face and limbs dissolving into something weightless and fuzzy. Then consciousness spreads through me like caffeine. My senses come alive.
This time there is water. A soft shhh, on either side of me.
I wait. Try to orient myself. Am I in a boat?
The darkness lifts, and a picture forms. Swamp. I’m in a rowboat, drifting through brown water and swirls of green scum. Around me I see dead leaves, rotted branches curling like fingers, partially submerged trees clawing their way upward. On my right, I catch a flash of movement. Watchful green eyes peer up at me. An alligator.
I drift along, trying to read the light, to get a sense of time. Morning? Evening? The swamp is sunless and dreary, offering no clues.
I feel him before I see him. Someone is with me. A small figure in a white shirt sits across from me in the boat. His face comes to me as if through mist, indistinct smudges giving way to flesh. Is it him? Is it Keegan?
Disappointment stabs me when I see the boy, not quite my son’s age. He’s very small, with skinny limbs. Two, maybe three years old. Pinchable cheeks and longish brown hair.
As if relieved to see me, he smiles, revealing a chipped tooth. I have the feeling that he’s been waiting for me.
Who are you? I ask.
Jo-Jo, he says, as though that should suffice. When he sees my blank stare, he tries to explain. I lived at the big white house. We had a doggie.
I note his use of the past tense with a frown. Where are we? I look around for something familiar, something I might recognize, but the swampy land is foreign.
The boy’s smile dissipates, and his eyes search mine. Will you help me?
He’s so young, his voice still feeling its way around each sentence.
I swallow. Somewhere he has a mother who must love him very much.
How? I ask the boy. What do you want me to do?
He looks down at his hands, quiet for a moment. The rhythmic swishing of the water engulfs us, an eerie lullaby. He hurt me, the boy says finally. You gotta tell on him.
Who hurt you? I press. If someone’s hurting you, you need to tell your mom.
I can’t! The boy’s voice rises, tearful. He said no tellin’ or he kill Mama. He kill me, maybe, too.
I study his eyes, brown with long lashes, and the dark hair that curls at the tips, just past his chin. I must not forget about the tooth. Front tooth, chipped. Keep every detail intact. I think I understand this vision now, and he’s right, he can’t tell his mother.
He’s already dead.
Par t I
O C T O B E R
The sky is a dismal gray when I finally go to remove my son’s car seat. It’s raining, a cold autumn rain that feels both cliché and appropriate for a moment I’ve spent more than three months avoiding. I stand by my Prius, peering through the rear window at the empty booster seat, wondering for the hundredth time about the thin coating of mystery grit Keegan always left behind. And then I do it.
I don’t give myself time to think, just proceed, quickly and efficiently. Loosen the straps. Dig into the cushions of the backseat and unhook the metal latches. One tug, and the car seat lands with a thunk on my driveway.
They never end, all these little ways you have to say good-bye. I turn my face toward the drizzle.
The summer has gone, slipped away without my noticing it, and somehow October is here, flaunting her furious reds and yellows. Squinting, I take in the houses of my neighborhood, their wholesome front yards: trim lawns, beds of waterlogged chrysanthemums, a cou- ple pumpkins on doorsteps. And leaves, of course, everywhere, blazing and brilliant, melting into the slick streets, clogging gutters.
I put my hand to my pocket, feel my keys and wallet. Blink. Try to remember what I’m doing, where I planned to go. Try not to think about the car seat lying behind me in the driveway.
I inhale deeply, wet earth and decaying leaves. It’s Sunday, I remind myself. I’m going to see Grandma. I climb into the driver’s seat and turn on the car, but it all feels wrong. I give myself a minute, wait to see if the anxiety will pass, before conceding that I’ve lost this battle. I can’t drive around town with that gaping void in the backseat. Not today.
Baby steps. One thing at a time.
I exit the car abruptly and head to the garage. Find my bike. It’s Sunday, and I am going to see Grandma. I will stick to the plan. I will hold it together.
Breathe, I tell myself. Breathe.
“Good God, Charlotte, you’re soaking.” Standing in the doorway of her modest apartment, my grandmother looks uncharacteristically rattled.
Once, Grandma would have been impatient with my running around in the rain, inviting sickness. But life is no longer ordinary. My grandmother’s granite eyes register concern, compassion even, as her gnarled hand waves me inside. I step into the foyer, dripping. Wet strings of hair cling to my forehead and neck.
Grandma peels off my jacket without comment. I can feel her watching, assessing, setting aside her own sadness to make space for mine. It’s a look I first saw when I was fourteen, back when my father died and she took me in. A look that has made an unfortunate resur- gence in recent months.
“There’s a bathrobe somewhere,” Grandma says. “Want a drink? Something hot?”
We are not a demonstrative pair. We are stoic New Englanders who maintain what my ex-husband sarcastically termed “the proper Yankee distance.” Feelings, in the Cates family, are more private than politics or religion. Hot tea, a mug of cocoa—this is the kind of warmth my grandmother has to offer.
“I’m okay, Grandma. I just want to sit down.” To describe myself as “okay” is, of course, a brazen lie. My face tells the story: cracked lips, eyelids puffy from sudden crying spells, skin pale and sickly after a summer spent hidden from the sun.
It’s obvious that I am not okay, but Grandma says nothing. She puts a hand on my shoulder and gently ushers me into the living room. I assume my usual post on the creaky old rocker while she arranges her- self in a high-backed wooden chair. My grandmother was a beautiful woman in her day, and though she’s lost most of her vanity with age, pride in her good posture has endured.
The living room is, as always, immaculate. Grandma hates knick- knacks. Her bookshelf consists largely of reference materials, although the bottom shelf holds a few guilty pleasures: some Stephen King nov- els, Cold Crimes magazine (my first steady writing gig), and old issues of Sophisticate, from before my promotions, back when I was a staff writer. Grandma remains a loyal reader of Sophisticate, although she isn’t exactly the target demographic for articles like “What You Need to Know About Prenups” and “Preparing Your Baby for an Ivy League Future.”
If my home is one of managed chaos, Grandma’s is one of enforced order. Even my son understood this, and obediently organized his books, games, and art supplies before we left here every Sunday.
“You didn’t have to come, Charlie,” Grandma murmurs. “I know it’s Sunday, but you didn’t have to come.”
“How else would I see you?” My grandmother gets around well for a woman her age, but she no longer drives, and expecting her to navigate the bus system is a little much. “Besides, it’s probably good for me to get out.”
“Did you leave your bike outside?” she asks. “It might rust.” I shrug. “It was Eric’s bike.”
My grandmother’s eyes narrow at the mention of my ex-husband. “Has he called you? Even once, to see how you’re doing?”
There’s venom in her words. She hates Eric with a passion I can no longer muster for his hipster glasses and ever-receding hairline. The Sperminator, my friend Rae took to calling him after the divorce, aptly summarizing his one lasting contribution to my life.
“Eric and I have nothing to talk about,” I say. “I told him not to call.” I don’t bring up Melissa, his new wife, but my grandmother cannot contain herself.
“I’ll never understand what he sees in that woman.”
My friends made similar comments after the funeral. They all knew she was the Other Woman. I suppose they expected more: good looks, big boobs, animal prints, the kind of trashiness that might have predict- ably turned Eric’s head. But Melissa, like Eric, was unremarkable.
“He did you a favor, really,” my grandmother declares. “You don’t waste caviar on a man who wants corn dogs. She’s exactly what he deserves.”
My whole family was outraged when Eric arrived at our son’s funeral with Melissa in tow. He has to rub her face in it, I overheard my aunt Suzie say, and maybe that was true. Maybe, in some childish way, Eric has something to prove. I didn’t care about the wife. I was angry that he showed up at all. Eric had visited Keegan only once since he and Melissa moved to Chicago. What right did he have to fatherly grief?
And still, Melissa comforted him. Held him as if the loss were his.
No, I wanted to tell them both, that’s MY son.
“You know, she works in waste management,” I inform Grandma, suddenly ready to take what cheap comfort I can.
“That explains why she loves trash,” Grandma mutters.
I manage a wobbly smile. We are Yankees. These are her love words.
Two hours at my grandmother’s house have, more or less, the in- tended effect. When it becomes clear that I don’t want to talk, she fills the silence. She tells me about the small fire her elderly, somewhat senile neighbor started. She comments on a recent article in Sophisticate, an exposé on Botox that she reacts indignantly to. It all feels familiar. Not normal, exactly, but familiar. A life I vaguely recognize as my own.
I’m picking myself up, preparing for the return to my empty, silent house, when Grandma speaks. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
It’s the closest she has come to acknowledging tragedy, and it chokes me up. I swallow and shake my head. There is nothing she, or anyone else, can do.
“I wanted to ask you . . .” She gathers herself up and I can see her steeling herself, preparing to ask an unpleasant question. “The church across the street is collecting donations. They’re looking for children’s items, and of course, I have all these toys around . . .”
It is an entirely reasonable thing for her to ask, and yet I resent it all the same.
“Did you want to hang on to them?” Grandma asks, sensing resis- tance in my silence. “There’s no hurry.”
“No, no, donate them.” I know the right words, even if I don’t truly feel them. “I’m sure some kid could find a use for all that stuff.”
My grandmother nods and collects my wet coat. I’m halfway out the door and headed for the elevator when she calls after me. “Charlotte?”
“Do you dream about him?” It’s an odd question.
“I never dream,” I tell her. “Ever. Do you dream about him?”
She shakes her head. “Sometimes I wish I did.” She blows me a kiss, a gesture I find unexpectedly tender. “Be careful riding home.”
That night, sprawled across the couch in the dark, I wait for my sleeping pills to kick in. Even before I lost Keegan, I needed pills. Now I need more. Charlie’s only off switch, Eric used to joke, and it’s true.
My body goes slack. My mind swirls. I’m on my way out.
Mom. From behind me, I swear I can hear Keegan’s voice. Mommy, are you listening?
I try to sit up, but Ambien is pulling me under, filling my head with nothing.
You have to listen, Mommy. It’s time to start listening.
The last thing I’m aware of is the sweet smell of his shampoo, his curls tickling my face. Then the drugs take me away.
Reading Group Guide
1. As a Northerner who has little experience with Southern culture, Charlie initially struggles to adapt to her new environment. What are some of the cultural differences between North and South that you noticed in this book? What kind of regional differences have you personally observed when traveling in the United States?
2. The Deveau family is known for its power and influence. Which characters are the most powerful in the story, and why? What gives a person power? Which characters best demonstrate personal strength? What is the difference between power and strength?
3. Compare Charlie’s relationship with Noah to that with her ex-husband. What do these two relationships have in common, and in what ways are they different? What do you think Charlie needs in a partner? What adjustments must she herself make in order for her relationships to succeed?
4. Several characters in the novel, including Charlie herself, keep aspects of their history a secret. Do you think secrets are necessary and appropriate or inevitably destructive? Where is the line? Does a child ever have a right to know about his or her parent’s history or is a parent entitled to personal privacy?
5. How do Charlie’s friendships help her through the grieving process and aid her healing? In your experience, what is the best way to help someone through a loss? What has helped you most during difficult periods of your life?
6. Discuss the character of Hettie. Do you think she acted out of self-preservation or out of love for her children? Were her actions justified? Why or why not?
7. Throughout the novel, Charlie remains unsure whether her experiences are a result of “God or Fate or Chance.” Other characters, like Leeann and Justine, are confident in their faith. Do you think The Gates of Evangeline presents a particular world view, or is it open to interpretation? Why?
8. The novel ends with many questions about the future left unanswered. How has Charlie changed over the course of the book? Do you think these changes will enable her to find happiness in the future, or is she likely to repeat her mistakes? How might her newfound gift affect her life going forward?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I do not alway agree with editorial reviews but i do this time.
Intriguing read! I could not put the book down. Looking forward to her next book!
Haunting storyline. Hester Young is a gifted writer whose intense emotional narrative expertly captures the depths of grief. Weaved with raw emotion, thought provoking spiritual occurances. Hester Young takes you on a mysterious journey from her Conneticut, New York life into the heart of Louisiana. A place she seemed destined to be. An old Southern mansion filled with its own secrets. Inside "The Gates of Evangeline".
Could not put it down! Original but believable storyline, thrilling mystery with lots of ways to guess who did what. Awesome book, do not skip this one!
Could not put it down. Great read.
Charlie Cates recently has lost her 3 year old son. She is still in mourning when she starts having nightmares of another little boy asking for help. She initially just thinks it is from the loss of her own son. But then she is offered the opportunity to write a book on the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau from the Evangaline estate in 1982. Charlie accepts the offer to stay at the plantation while doing her research and learns that the little boy in her nightmares is Gabriel and he needs her help. She also starts having dreams of other children that need her help. But this is not going to be an easy research assignment. There are years of family secrets, mysteries, and betrayals on the Evangaline estate. Hopefully Charlie can help Gabriel and the other children she dreams. I loved this story. It has the gothic southern mystery with an extended family with all kinds of secrets. I felt for Charlie with the loss of her own son and loved how she decided to follow the nightmares and help the children. There is a little romance thrown in for Charlie but I loved how it enhanced the story instead of taking over. This is a great mystery that takes place in a plantation in Louisiana. Make sure to check it out. I am very curious to see what happens in the next book. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This was such a great book. I mean, I could not put it down. This was the fastest I have ever read 400 pages. There is so much drama and the tension level is so high through most of this book. And the suspects for this 30 year old murder case, the number is crazy. Shoot, any of the family members alone are so cray cray that they could have done it. There are some pretty strange characters in this book and that's not counting the ones who could be suspects. However, Charlie's dreams do help one couple be with their child during her last breaths, she saves another child from death by a sex offender and she helps to find the bones of a 30 year old mystery. She does find out what happened to Gabriel as well and the answer will shock you. I was totally into this book. It had everything going for it. Mystery, suspense, drama, a little romance, tabloid headlines, deathbed confessions, Mardi Gras parades, suicides, spoiled twins who can't go out in the rain for fear of drowning, a plantation, 30 year old cold case murder, 30 year old missing person, a little afternoon delight, secrets, locked doors, and guarded gates with cameras. What does that all add up to? A heck of a good book which I highly and thoroughly recommend! Huge thanks to Lesa's Book Critiques and Putnam Books for providing me a free hardback copy in exchange for an honest review!
I really loved reading this book. I did not want to put it down. I love reading about clairvoyant people and when they can save children it is fantastic. This was a nice story about a woman who loses her child and has to rebuild her life. She gets a new job down south trying to find out how to find this missing boy and see if she can solve a thirty year mystery about a missing boy. The family hires her to write a book about the case and see what turns up. There are a lot of twists and turns and lots of intrigue. I loved it. I received this ebook from the Firsttoread program for a fair and honest opinion.
I liked this book well enough. I didn't feel like gushing about it when I finished but I did enjoy the story. This was one of those books that I found that I really liked some aspects a whole lot and other things in the book would lose me a little. In the end, the good outweighed the bad for me. Charlie is mourning the sudden loss of her young son. As you can imagine, she is going through the motions of daily living but is rather lost. When she is offered a job writing a book about the famous Deveau family, she decides to do it. Oh, did I mention the fact that Charlie has dreams about dead children that are frighteningly accurate? When she dreams of a little boy that lived in the big house, she wants to find out what happened to him. Charlie finds herself in the middle of several mysteries often working along with the local police. Will she be able to find out what happened the the little Deveau boy that was kidnapped over 30 years earlier? She is also spending a lot of time with the local landscaper, Noah, whose grandparents worked for the family at the time of the disappearance and she doesn't seem quite sure if she should trust him or not. I loved the parts of the book where Charlie dreamed about the ghosts. Hands down, that was my favorite thing about this book. I think that the way the ghosts were used in this book was perfect. It didn't overpower the story and just gave Charlie a little push in the right direction. The fact that should could only dream of children and had no control of her visions seemed right. I really liked the family dynamics of the Deveau family. They were as perfectly imperfect as I would have expected. I found that I was doubting just about everything about them which really made me question what really had happened. I also think that Charlie's grief over her son was well done. The guilt, the inability to move on, and the desperation she felt seemed authentic. I didn't really like the romance between Charlie and Noah in this story. It really seemed forced to me. Charlie didn't seem to know whether she trusted him from one moment to the next. I don't think that anything about building a relationship felt real between these two characters even though it was kind of sweet at the end. I would recommend this book to others. It was a very easy to read, well paced novel. There was enough of a mystery to keep things interesting with a few twists along the way that should keep most readers guessing. I liked the fact that the author included just the right balance of paranormal in the story. I plan to read future works by Hester Young including the remainder of this trilogy. I received an advance reader edition of this book from Penguin First to Read for the purpose of providing an honest review.
The genre of Southern Gothic Mystery is new to me. This is the first of this type I have read and I loved it. The story was told wonderfully. I could not stop reading. While the idea of someone knowing what was going to happen to children in danger or what did happen to children that had been lost was outside of my normal comfort zone, I enjoyed the entire story. There was a mystery, of course. The who-dun-it actually lead to more and more mysteries of the Evangeline house. The Deveau Family has a lot of history. As with many families there are secrets. Within those secrets is love, abandonment, murders (yes, more than one), and family dynamics. The love is interesting. From the very first interaction with this family you know something is not right. Each family member is off, they all have secrets, and they are not all as they appear. The more I read, the more I understood their relationships with each other. Even the hired help in the Evangeline house have secrets that lead to the long time mystery being solved. The relationship between Noah and Charlie was intense. Charlie was still dealing with the death of her young son. Noah had his divorce to come to terms with. I have to admit that I figured out how Noah fit into the story long before it ended, but I still did not know the why’s of who he was. Their relationship almost seemed doom before it started yet they both realized what they had with each other and worked so very hard to make it work. When doubt came in they pushed through, when fear was there they stayed strong with each other, and when they were in danger they knew that could trust each other. This is a great read. The pace of the story was perfect, the characters are strong and mysterious, and the ending is amazing. I definitely recommend checking out The Gates of Evangeline.