Book Review: Harvest House by Cynthia Leitich Smith
NSK Neustadt Laureate and New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith delivers a thrilling cross-genre follow-up to the acclaimed Hearts Unbroken.
Deftly leading readers to the literary crossroads of contemporary realism and haunting mystery, Cynthia Leitich Smith revisits the world of her American Indian Youth Literature Award winner Hearts Unbroken. Halloween is near, and Hughie Wolfe is volunteering at a new rural attraction: Harvest House. He’s excited to take part in the fun, spooky show—until he learns that an actor playing the vengeful spirit of an “Indian maiden,” a ghost inspired by local legend, will headline. Folklore aside, unusual things have been happening at night at the crossroads near Harvest House. A creepy man is stalking teenage girls and young women, particularly Indigenous women; dogs are fretful and on edge; and wild animals are behaving strangely. While Hughie weighs how and when to speak up about the bigoted legend, he and his friends begin to investigate the crossroads and whether it might be haunted after all. As Moon rises on All Hallow’s Eve, will they be able to protect themselves and their community? Gripping and evocative, Harvest House showcases a versatile storyteller at her spooky, unsettling best.
Make sure you read the summary up there to get the plot highlights. I just want to talk about how much I liked this book. If elementary-age readers are any indication of what older readers are into, this book will grab readers’ attention because it’s “creepy.” I can’t tell you how many kids saw me reading this and asked if they could have it next just based on the cover (they were bummed when I told them it’s more of a book for older kids). Here’s the thing: it’s easy to sell this book as being creepy and/or scary. And yes, it’s a ghost story, among other things. But the things that are creepy or scary about this book are the things that happen completely in our real world, removed from any idea of the supernatural. At its heart, it’s about a dead girl, it’s about other girls seeming to be threatened or followed, it’s about something that seems to be a murder. It’s about missing and murdered Indigenous women, it’s about who gets attention in cases like that, it’s about who is likely to be harmed, it’s about covering up that harm. And more than any hypothetical ghost doing any hypothetical ghost business, that’s what’s scary about this story—how frequently these things happen in real life and just get ignored.
I loved Hughie and his friends. They’re smart, interesting, curious, and determined. They want to figure out the real story behind the Crossroads Ghost and they want to make sure people in their community are protected. There are a lot of other things going on while they do all this—relationships, new friendships, jobs, volunteering at a new haunted house (and battling the racist and insensitive depictions being portrayed there), and more—but it’s the investigation that propels the story. We meet Celeste, our ghost, on page one. What happened to her? What’s really going on in this town? And can Hughie and friends help Celeste find peace and finally help her tell her story?
This was a great read. It definitely works as a stand-alone story, but readers who have already read Hearts Unbroken will enjoy getting to see more stories from characters they met in that book.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 04/11/2023
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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