In Charis Cotter’s ghost story, The Swallow, 12-year-old Rose McPherson may as well be invisible. Her workaholic parents have no time for her, she has no friends, and she often feels like she’s invisible. As if that weren’t enough, she is constantly plagued by ghosts that are invisible to everybody else. Rose’s neighbour, Polly Lacey, is also 12, but nothing at all like Rose. Loud and impulsive, Polly is full of life, lives in a house overflowing with people, and wants, more than anything else, to see a ghost.
When the two girls discover a secret passage connecting their attics, they become fast friends, and Rose confides her clairvoyant abilities to Polly. But Polly is not entirely sure about Rose. Polly’s brothers think Rose is a “ghost girl” who befriends unwitting children and steals their souls, and Rose bears an uncanny resemblance to a deceased aunt whose ghost has a particular vendetta against Polly. As the girls delve into the McPherson family’s past, they discover a dark and disturbing history that deepens Polly’s doubts about Rose’s true nature. As Rose and Polly uncover secrets, long lost family members, and an enviable shoe collection they learn a little something about friendship, loss, and the fragility of life.
Tense, tragic, and full of unexpected twists, Cotter’s latest novel is a thoroughly engaging work of deliciously scripted suspense. Cotter’s dark descriptions of 1960s Toronto provide the perfect backdrop for this oddly touching ghost story. Cotter is a master storyteller who deftly lays down clues and red herrings to steer the reader in her chosen direction, before pulling the rug out in a denouement that is as moving as it is unexpected. A novel about life, death, and the people who get stuck in between, The Swallow is a classic little gem of Canadian children’s fiction that should be read with the lights on.
By Charis Cotter
$19.99, hardcover, 320 pp.
Tundra Books, September 2014