Thursday, January 29, 2004

Cold in Summer

Barrett, Tracy. 2003. COLD IN SUMMER. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. ISBN 0805070524 [Suggested Grade Levels 4 through 8]

Addy’s life changes when her family moves to Dobbin, Tennessee from Florida. Not only does she make all the typical adjustments to her new surroundings, but she also keeps seeing a girl in old-fashioned clothes and a gold locket who keeps vanishing. Addy learns that the girl’s name is May Butler and that others have seen her too: she was the “imaginary friend” of Addy’s friend’s sister, Jade, who has leukemia, and she was sighted by Ann, a woman at the ice cream parlor who is known for “seeing things”. When Addy speaks to May again she asks about these people, and May says that she doesn’t see them anymore because they no longer “need” her. May also tells Addy that she’s lost and pleads, “You have to find me.”

Upon doing some research, Addy finds a book at the library entitled The Strange Case of May Butler, which says that May disappeared one day while picking berries and her body was never found. Months later her sister also disappeared but made her way home, saying that May had helped her; it occurred later with other children from the area who were lost or had run away. This establishes May as some sort of do-gooder wandering spirit; it comes out that she helped Jade, who was ill, and Ann, who was abused, and now she is helping Addy, who is trying to adjust.

With clues from what May told others, Addy seeks May’s body and after an adventure finds May’s skeleton. May can now finally get some peace and be with her long-gone family, thanks to the efforts of Addy.

Some issues of city versus country are addressed in this book, including some erroneous assumptions and stereotypes (for example, Addy is surprised to see that her school is bright and new, versus presumably a one-room schoolhouse). People of the town don’t lock their doors, and her brother gets upset when his citified parents refuse to let him go hunting and have a gun like the other kids his age. Readers who live in either scenario should find it intriguing to see how the “other half lives.”

The issue of the supernatural in this book may be a somewhat controversial one, as some libraries, schools and parents shun anything having to do with ghosts or anything too scary or too arcane. This story doesn’t fall into the classic “ghost story” category, however.

Children could have a spooky storytelling event at the library: a fake campfire could be constructed and all the students could share their creepy tales, with prizes going to the scariest, most creative or whatever categories the kids or the librarian choose.

Other books with supernatural/spirit characters:
Boston, L.M. The Children of Green Knowe. ISBN 0152024689
Hahn, Mary Downing. Wait Til Helen Comes. ISBN 0380704420
Wright, Betty Ren. Ghosts Beneath Out Feet. ISBN 0590337041

By Shannon McGregor

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