|Image: Random House|
"Are we going to die?" sure is attention-grabbing. This is the question Willow's younger brother, Wisp asks from the backseat of their family's car, and also the first line of the book. They are heading home from Willow's hockey game in Canada and it's snowing. Hard. Like "blizzard of the century" hard. Willow flinches because no one is supposed to talk about death around Wisp. He has an undiagnosed, potentially fatal illness. Willow's mom has devoted all of her time, energy and attention to Wisp to the detriment of her marriage and possibly, her relationship with her daughter. Willow feels a toxic cocktail of guilt and anger swilling beneath the surface of her studied calm and competence.
The car slides off the roadway and crashes through the bridge railing leaving the three passengers terrified as it teeters over a freezing rushing river. Miraculously, a couple arrive in a tow truck. They are able to rescue the family, but the car and all of their belongings crashes into the river. They are brought to the town of Kismet, Maine where Cora, owner of a bed and breakfast has rooms prepared for them. She even places a bucket next to Wisp in case he needs to vomit. This foresight puzzles Willow. It isn't long before other weird coincidence begin cropping up. Worst of all, there's a hospital and a doctor in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere giving Willow's mother more medical straws to grasp at. Something is off in this town and Willow intends to get to the bottom of it.
As a medically trained adult, the deadly, undiagnosable illness as a plot contrivance drives me bonkers. As a kid, I would've eaten it up though. So setting that aside, this was a suspenseful present-tense read featuring a fierce, intelligent little girl caught in the middle of one terrible problem, followed by another and then a third difficult dilemma. The dreamy, otherworldly setting is compelling and the main characters are interesting. Young readers who like magic and thinking about fate vs. free will will love this book. Fans of Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting might enjoy The Root of Magic.