Light Beneath Ferns, by Anne Spollen

Light Beneath Ferns, by Anne Spollen (Flux, 2010, YA, 206 pages) *more spoilerish than my reviews usually are*

Elizah, telling the story of what happened to her that fall, begins with finding a bone at the edge of a graveyard. The graveyard is Elizah's new home--her mother has taken her to New York, to the small town where she had lived when she was a girl. She is the new caretaker of a historical cemetery, looking desperately to make a New Start. And Elizah is the new girl in the local school, a girl who does not want to talk to anyone. A girl who is happiest left alone in silence...because what, really, is she supposed to say? Her father, a compulsive gambler wanted by the law, has skipped out on them, and now she's supposed to start a new life....

Then she finds a bone, coming out of the mud at the edge of a river. Fascinated by bones, she brings it home....and realizes that it is human, and keeps it, safely shut away in her room...

At home and at school, she is pressured to be Normal. To be friendly, and even encouraging, to the other girls and to a boy who fancies her. But exploring off by herself by the river, she meets someone she thinks could be a real friend--a boy named Nathaniel, who seems to live outside the everyday world. A charismatic boy more real to her than anyone else in her life, he takes her upriver with him, showing her the strange world in which he lives...and gradually unfolds to her, as fall changes to winter, the reason he has sought out her company.

It is not that hard (even for a reader as un-thinking when reading as myself) to guess pretty quickly that Nathaniel and the bone that Elizah is keeping are somehow connected....yet even though it is easy to see where the plot is going, Elizah's beautifully drawn life as a rather desperate introvert, trying to make sense of difficult things, carries the story to its moving conclusion.

As paranormal romances go, it is subtle and understated, as the title, Light Beneath Ferns, suggests--small glimpses of strange and magical things, filtered through reality. Recommended to those who like their ghosts magically other, rather than front and center, and to those in the mode for a romance more along the lines of things that dreams are made of, rather than the blatant wish fulfillment of Young Love.

Here's a review from some who loved it: Book Crazy, and here's a review from someone who didn't: Books at Midnight.

I myself really empathized with Elizah (she made the book for me), thought the supernatural elements of the plot included some random bits that weren't quite developed enough to make sense to me (which I found vexing), wished for a bit more of the romance (Nathaniel was cute, with lots of paranormal romance potential that was never quite realized....oh well), and ultimately found it rather haunting....

Personal postscript:

There was one issue that I personally had with this book that spoiled my enjoyment of it somewhat. As an archaeologist, I was very put off by Elizah's cavalier appropriation of human remains. In my own line of work, I get calls every so often from people who have unwittingly found human bones, and sometimes it's my job to be the one to pick them up, carefully and respectfully, to try to figure out what to do with them--reburial, preferably with the next-of-kin located, being the desired outcome. So the idea of a teenager keeping a human bone in her bedroom rubbed me the wrong way--this is just not right. If you should ever find human remains, you should call a. the police b. the state archaeologist (every state has one, as part of their state historic preservation office).


  1. That's a really good point about the human remains; there's a fine line between what you can do for a story and what you want to encourage people to do in real life...! It would be good for readers to know what to do if they had the sad event of finding human remains...

  2. I read this book and I remember she thought it was an animal bone at first, maybe a wolf bone?? And Elizah was not squeamish - there were like three mentions of how she liked bones and even made stuff from bird bones. The bone kind of connected the "real stuff" and the "mystical stuff" for me.
    Just my opinion.

  3. Hi Tanita and Allison! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    I have absolutly no problem with bones...my son, when he was five, loved his skunk skull more than any of his stuffed animals, and that was fine. I liked Elizah's bird bone art hobby...

    And I agree that this particular bone was an integral part of the story.

    It was the fact that Elizah was so unpreturbed by having a human bone that bothered me...


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