The Seer of Shadows by Avi

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avi has been writing young adult books for many years. Two of my favorites The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and Nothing But the Truth are inventive and present very realistic characters. AVI often writes in first person, which allows the reader to identify and closely bond with the story’s narrator. I now have added The Seer of Shadows, which has recently been nominated for the Mark Twain Award, to my list. This historical fiction merges authentic details about early photography, a historical setting, and a compelling mystery to create an innovation and spine tingling ghost story.

Horace Carpetine is an apprentice to an opportunistic photographer in 1872 New York. When a wealthy woman comes to the photography studio to request a picture to place on the grave of her recently departed daughter Eleanora, the photographer enlists Horace’s aid to deceive the woman. Even though Horace questions the ethics of his employer’s request, he agrees and takes his first pictures with eerie results: an angry spectral image of Eleanora. At first, Horace convinces himself that the image is a fluke, but when every picture he takes shows similar images of the dead girl, he turns to the Pegg, a black servant girl, who claims that Eleanora’s death was the direct result of greed. With Pegg’s help, Horace realizes that his photographs have somehow brought Eleanor back, and her spirit is determined to punish those responsible for her death.

Through Horace’s thoughts and actions Avi beautifully describes the processes that early photographers followed in order to create photographs in the late 1800’s.  At the same time, Avi establishes a very realistic picture of post Civil War New York City.  Avi’s attention to authentic details also builds suspense because Horace, who has been raised to think rationally has a very difficult time making sense of the strange ghostly images he develops even though he compares the whole chemical process to having a “magical even mystical” quality. It is impossible not to accept Horace’s confusion, agitation, and gradual acceptance that his pictures do indeed reveal Eleanora’s ghost especially after Pegg explains the abuse and the reason behind her death. It is easy to see why The Seer of Shadows has been chosen as A Mark Twain nominee. First, it will appeal to both male and female readers, it provides historically accurate information about race, setting, and education, and it’s a suspenseful ghost story with a very surprising ending. 

Rating: 5 Cherries 

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