Somehow I missed this book last year, but this spooky summer story with ties to African-American history was perfect vacation reading this year. And bonus, it’s just now out in paperback. We also bought and listened to Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi in the car as a family.
Just South of Home by Karen Strong. Simon & Schuster, 2019. ISBN 978-1534419384. Read from library copy.
Sarah is looking forward to the first summer her parents have allowed her to stay home and take care of her little brother, Ellis, instead of spending it working in her grandmother’s garden in rural Georgia. She has piles of astronomy books and dvd series to watch, and plans to just kick back. Then, her cousin Janie comes first for a visit and then for the summer. Janie, from Chicago, loves nail polish, celebrities, and city living.
When Ellis tells Janie a local ghost story set in the graveyard of a church burned down by the Klan, Janie is determined to go and see if it’s true. Sarah doesn’t believe the rumors, but knows going there is against the rules – and still feels obligated, as the one in charge, to follow when Janie insists on going. Will her scientific mind be forced to reevaluate the bounds of reality?
Meanwhile, a former resident has moved back to town, setting up a history center with a wall to remember all the people lost to lynching and offering consultations for people experiencing “spiritual problems.” When uncanny things start happening, Ellis’s older friend, Jasper, suggests that they ask her for help. She wants to help everyone in town acknowledge the pain of the past, but many people – including Sarah’s grandmother – are convinced it’s the work of the devil.
This book is filled with slow summer days and sticky heat, the freedom of exploring without adult supervision, the pain of trying to get along with relatives you might not have much in common with, the perennially important shifting middle school friendships, a dash of humor, and of course, the spookiness of haints and the importance of remembering the past.