Autumn is here at last! Goodbye, sweating buckets at the Baltimore Book Festival. Hello, sweaters and crunchy leaves. I’m cozying up with a pumpkin spice latte (just kidding — flavored coffee is truly frightening) and some spine tingling stories.
The first novel on my October Boo!shelf is Shannon Parker’s ghost story, The Rattled Bones.
Here is the description:
Maine-bred, independent Rilla Brae is no stranger to the deep. She knows the rhythms of hard work and harder seas. But when she experiences the sudden death of her father, the veil between the living and the dead blurs and she begins to be haunted by a girl on a nearby, uninhabited island. The girl floats a song over the waves, and it is as beautiful as it is terrifying. Familiar and distant.
Then Rilla meets Sam, a University of Southern Maine archaeology student tasked with excavating the very island where the ghostly girl appeared. Sam sifts the earth looking for the cultural remains of an island people who were forcibly evicted by the state nearly a hundred years ago. Sam tells Rilla the island has a history no locals talk about—if they know about it at all—due to the shame the events brought to the working waterfront community. All Rilla knows for sure is that the island has always been there—an eerie presence anchored in the stormy sea. Now Sam’s work and the girl’s song lure Rilla to the island’s shores.
As Rilla helps Sam to unearth the island’s many secrets, Rilla’s visions grow—until the two discover a tragedy kept silent for years. And it’s a tragedy that has everything to do with Rilla’s past.
Today, Shannon is stopping by for 5 Questions with the Author. And since it’s Poetry Friday, I’ve got the perfect scary poem to pair with her book.
Laura: As the The Rattled Bones opens, Rilla Brae has just graduated from high school. She was excited about going to college, but her father’s recent death has her rethinking her plans. Then she experiences a haunting. Why is it important for Rilla to solve this family mystery before she decides whether to stay and support her family or leave home?
Shannon: This is a great question!
The Rattled Bones is part mystery, part historical fiction, part contemporary and, of course, a ghost story.
At the beginning of the book, Rilla’s father has died at sea and her grief causes the veil between the living and the dead to lift. Through tragedy, this 17-year-old fisherman quickly becomes the sole financial provider for her family. As she works the seas, she begins to see an eerie presence on an uninhabited island, starts to hear a familiar but distant song carry over the waves. Rilla sees this girl—this ghost—in the dark of the underwater, on the shores of her back yard. The girl is all seaweed hair and gravel-rough voice. She is everywhere and nowhere.
Rilla can’t leave for college knowing her Gram might be in danger, that this girl could haunt her grandmother too. But more importantly, Rilla can’t resist the pull of this otherworldly girl because they are connected in a way that changes Rilla’s future and her past.
Laura: Rilla comes from a family of lobstermen. This part of the story is fascinating – there’s the lingo (lobsters are known as “bugs”), the banter on the docks, and the long-standing superstitions. How does Rilla’s struggle to be accepted and respected in this community reflect the overall themes of the novel?
Shannon: Lobster fishing is fascinating. It is hard work on rough seas. The industry is familial and insular and has a language and rhythm all its own. Rilla has grown up lobstering—catching bugs—all her life, but when she becomes captain of her own boat, the reader sees the prejudice and misogyny that can exist in segments of this male-dominated industry.
The novel has many feminist themes and Rilla’s work on the ocean is one way to highlight the overall feminist tone of the book.
Laura: This is a novel that is deeply tied to setting. The closely drawn details of Rilla’s small Maine fishing village keep the reader grounded as the haunting progresses. Could you talk about coastal Maine and the writing techniques you used to capture it so vividly?
Shannon: Maine’s coast is harsh and beautiful. When a thick fog drops over the water, it can feel as if you’re standing at the edge of the universe. When the sky is blue, you can feel the world pulse on into eternity. I can’t speak to any writing techniques I used because I never considered the ocean from a craft perspective. She was a character like any other and I needed to develop her in a way that the reader would feel the salt lick of the ocean’s breath, know the cold reaches of her depths, the pulse of her tides. The sea needed to move and shift and breathe around Rilla so that I could explore some of the paranormal elements of the haunting, but I also needed the reader to feel the dangers of Rilla’s work at sea, how the ocean often takes more than she gives.
Laura: The Rattled Bones is a ghost story, but its foundation is built on a historical event. How did you become interested in the history of the island of Malaga? Did your research lead you to any unexpected places?
Shannon: About ten years ago I came across a photo-documentary called: Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold. The storyteller in me was immediately intrigued. I couldn’t imagine any story better for being silenced. So I told it.
The most unexpected part of my research was learning of the legacy of shame that still haunts Malaga descendants—many of whom still fish the waters around the island today. The shame has taken root in the psyches of the descendants of Malaga Island victims, not the perpetrators. That will never stop surprising me.
Laura: What made you decide to make The Rattled Bones a ghost story with a contemporary teen protagonist instead of exploring Malaga’s past through historical fiction?
Shannon: I don’t think I could write historical fiction. Also, I’ve always wanted to be haunted by a ghost.
Shannon M. Parker is an author and educator who spent her young adult years collecting thirty-seven stamps in her passport. She holds degrees in English Literature, Linguistics and Educational Leadership from Saint Michael’s College, UMass Boston and University of Southern Maine respectively. She lives in New England with her family.
Shannon has been a Poetry Friday featured guest before. You can read my post about her first novel, The Girl Who Fell, here.
Readers, you know how excited I get when I find the *perfect* poem to pair with a novel.
Cynthia Huntington’s poem “Ghost” has the same eerie quality as Shannon’s book. The other sits just at the edge of every day, ordinary life, watching.
A note for middle grade readers: If Malaga Island sounds familiar, it is the setting of Gary Schmidt’s historical fiction, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.