Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell
Iris Rhame and her best friend Collette are hunkering down for a long summer of more of the same--hot, sweaty days, ducking out on chores at the diner where Collette's mother works, and spending time in the cemetary, playing at being psychic and summoning the dead. They aren't expecting any surprises, because nothing ever happens in their small town of Ondine, Louisiana.
But this summer, things are different. This summer, Iris and Collette are fourteen, which shouldn't mean anything's changing, but somehow, things are. Collette is suddenly very interested in boys, and has started bringing her new boyfriend Ben into her and Iris's private games of make-believe. But even more unsettling is the fact that make-believe has suddenly gotten very real. Because Iris has contacted a ghost. A real ghost.
It seems to be the ghost of Elijah Landry, who disappeared years earlier. At first, Iris is thrilled by the adventure, but she soon decides that ghost-hunting, when it's real, is a lot scarier and a lot less exciting than she had always thought it would be. But it's too late to back out, because now she has Elijah's attention--and she won't be able to rest until Elijah can, too.
From the flap copy and the awful cover, I assumed this would be a supernatural gothic like the Betty Ren Wright books I read when I was younger, and it certainly started out that way. Two kids, a quiet town, a lazy summer, nothing much to do, and then a haunting.
But it became much more than that. A ghost story became the backdrop for a coming of age story that feels so honest and real it's heartbreaking. Watching your best friend grow into boys when you're still comfortable with everything staying the same. The thrill of make-believe, and the embarassment of having your games shared with an outsider, even if he's someone you've known your entire life. And the moment where you realize that everything can't stay the same, that you're growing up and that's as it should be, and that sometimes that means leaving parts of yourself in the past.
The plot of this book is a ghost story, but the heart is a moving story about the pangs of growing up and struggling to understand your way from childhood to teenagerhood.
And I have to say--the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of Elijah Landry is resolved in a way I never would have guessed or expected. It's a quiet thing, but it shows how far the world of junior supernatural gothics has come--or maybe just that this one is a standout.