The RevenantSpring 2012 Fiction
Willie isn't sure what is the worst aspect of her new job as an English teacher at the Cherokee Female Seminary. Possibly it's the fact that she's lied about her identity and teaching credentials and she can't seem to figure out how to grade the growing stack of essays on her desk. Or perhaps it's the fact that she's barely older than her stylish, sophisticated senior students, and far shabbier. Maybe it's the distracting presence of Eli Sevenstar, a handsome boy at the nearby boys' school, with whom Willie has absolutely no business falling in love. Then there are the rumors of the ghost living in her room, the spirit of a former student who drowned under mysterious circumstances the previous year. Willie doesn't believe in ghosts, but she is finding it more and more difficult to ignore the tapping at her window and the incidents that keep disturbing the students who were closest to the drowned girl. With the help of Olivia, her only friend at the Seminary, Willie finally decides to try listening to the ghost in order to unravel some of the mysteries of the seminary.
This novel combines elements of mystery, historical fiction, paranormal romance, and classic boarding school story in one very engaging package. Willie is a fine narrator; funny, spunky, and just ignorant enough to serve as a good guide into the world of the 1890s Cherokee reservation. Although she is a teacher, she needs as much education as her students do, as she retains many of her prejudices when she enters Indian Country. That is a plus, for this reader; I'm not a fan of historical novels in which the protagonists have been explicitly, and unrealistically, cleansed of racism in order to make them more likeable. Gensler instead acknowledges the troubled history of Indian education in the United States, and also recognizes that it makes a worthy setting for a school story rife with the peer drama beloved of adolescent readers. While the historical fiction elements were the most interesting to me, I also thoroughly enjoyed the suspenseful mystery; though actually, as a teacher myself, Willie's terror of grading her students' essays was probably my favorite detail. This wonderful debut novel will appeal to a wide range of young readers and their parents, due to its eclectic mix of genres.