“Sixteen year old Aidan’s grandmother has a secret recipe. She feeds ghosts.”
This opening line in the flyleaf description of A Gathering of Shades is what made me take the book home. An old lady who feeds ghosts. What a powerfully creepy image. And I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. This story is one of the better books for teens I’ve read in a long time. Evocative, eerie, and heartbreaking…all at once.
Aidan’s grandmother does indeed feed ghosts, but he doesn’t find out until a few days after he and his mother arrive back at the family homestead in The Kingdom, an area in upper Vermont. After Aidan’s father is killed in a car accident, his mother decides to pull up stakes from the suburbs of Boston and head back home to heal. Aidan, having only visited The Kingdom as a child and having listened to his father talk about how much he hated it when he was growing up, is less than thrilled about the move. He’s uncomfortable around his odd grandmother, but is curious enough about her lengthy after-dinner walks that he follows her one night and discovers her secret. She’s been feeding the ghosts of The Kingdom for years, helping them pass the time until they’re ready to move on. She’s surprised that Aidan can see the ghosts, but seems pleased to have flesh-and-blood company among the ectoplasm, until she figures out that Aidan joins her every evening only because he’s hopeful his father’s ghost will put in an appearance. Aidan spends the better part of the summer chasing his father’s ghost until he finally manages to say goodbye.
There are plenty of messages here, but none are pushed to the point of being annoying. The futility of chasing ghosts, the difficulty of moving on and letting go after a tragedy, the reliving the memories of the dead time and again…all are addressed with lovely, gentle writing. Reading this story is a little like floating down a stream tucked in an inner tube. Give it a try…