Title: Ghost Bird
Author: Lisa Fuller
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Word/Page Count: 280 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by University of Queensland Press on October 1st, 2019
RRP: $19.95 AUD (paperback)
Blurb from Goodreads:
Remember daughter, the world is a lot bigger than anyone knows. There are things that science may never explain. Maybe some things that shouldn’t be explained.
Stacey and Laney are twins – mirror images of each other – and yet they’re as different as the sun and the moon. Stacey works hard at school, determined to get out of their small town. Laney skips school and sneaks out of the house to meet her boyfriend. But when Laney disappears one night, Stacey can’t believe she’s just run off without telling her.
As the days pass and Laney doesn’t return, Stacey starts dreaming of her twin. The dreams are dark and terrifying, difficult to understand and hard to shake, but at least they tell Stacey one key thing – Laney is alive. It’s hard for Stacey to know what’s real and what’s imagined and even harder to know who to trust. All she knows for sure is that Laney needs her help.
Stacey is the only one who can find her sister. Will she find her in time?
Ghost Bird is a wonderfully original, spooky and action-packed YA debut novel. The author has delved into her rich cultural heritage to selectively weave Indigenous beliefs into her storytelling, and as a result this is refreshingly different to every other offering in the YA market.
Our protagonist Stacey is desperate to find her missing twin and is torn between listening to her instincts, no matter how outlandish it seems to believe in clairvoyant dreams, or whether she should stand by her education and stubborn regard for the scientific method. As she makes increasingly risky choices to try and save her sister, she faces the town’s prejudice against its indigenous inhabitants, her own community’s superstitions and bitter feuds plus an ancient evil force intent on consuming anyone in its way.
This was a surprise in the best way! From the blurb, I expected a mystery thriller, but packaged with that was a beautiful depiction of the tight bonds of the indigenous community. Stacey and her sister grow up in a single parent household, but they are far from isolated with dozens of relatives to bicker and banter with, to play fight or seek support from in times of need. When Laney goes missing, everyone in the ‘mob’ rally around Stacey and her mother, tirelessly organizing search parties day after day and gathering in the evenings to offer comfort; her uncle in particular is a prominent presence, having taken on the role of their ‘second dad’.
Often in YA, the parents are conspicuously missing, which has always struck me as odd given how instrumental parents are in shaping their children’s personalities, but here it’s the complete opposite. In Ghost Bird, one of the recurring themes is how past generations affect their descendants and pass on their beliefs, strength and wisdom. The scenes interspersed throughout the novel showing Stacey’s interactions with her formidable Nan and cantankerous Pop are both funny and touchingly sweet. But rather than venerating the elders as infallible, we’re shown that at times, you need to question conventional wisdom and risk censure by going against the norm. Stacey has always been the good girl who does what she’s told and doesn’t break any rules, but with her sister’s life on the line, she surprises even herself by finding there’s no limits to her disobedience.
Readers who are averse to non-standard pronunciations being written into the text (‘tanight’ instead of ‘tonight’) may struggle at first, but while this is normally a pet peeve of mine, here I quickly became accustomed to the native dialect along with colorful colloquialisms. These added to the authenticity and overall charm of the story, and brought Stacey’s everyday interactions and inner musings vividly to life. The author doesn’t hold your hand, however, so be prepared to interpret terms from context! (I have to admit, I still haven’t puzzled out exactly what a ‘port’ is)
The author aimed to fill a void in Australian literature by writing a story that was relatable to those of indigenous background, and this doesn’t sugarcoat their experience, showing both the highlights of their close-knit community and the bitter frustration of dealing with open prejudice and microaggressions on a daily basis. But in addition to providing much needed representation, Ghost Bird succeeds in telling a riveting, suspenseful story about a lovable family unit in peril that alternately induces hilarity with their light-hearted repartee or chills when danger closes in. I was frantically turning each page towards the end, hoping and fearing for the safety of our main characters in the climactic showdown!
With fascinating insight into a different culture, complicated and multi-faceted characters plus a brisk engrossing plot, this is highly recommended.
Personal Rating: 4.5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.