The SPiRit of CATtail COUNTY, Victoria Piontek ****/5

Twelve-year-old Sparrow has always been an outcast in her small Southern town. She looks and even smells different from the other kids. These days, being an outcast means there is no one she can share her sorrow with about the recent death of her mother. Sure, there is her mean, hateful, rule-bound caretaker aunt, but she’s making sneaky plans to sell the family home. If Sparrow must move, not only will she have to say goodbye to her first human friends, siblings Maeve and Johnny, and child fortune-teller Elena, but also the Boy. He’s a ghost and her best friend.

Sparrow hopes she can stay in her home long enough for her mother to appear as a spirit and finally tell her the name of her father. While scheming with Maeve, Johnny, and Elena to track down her elusive parent, Sparrow also tries to solve the Boy’s mystery. Why is he only in her house or pacing along the shore of the nearby marshland? How did he end up a ghost? When Sparrow and her friends discover the Boy’s gravestone, all they are left with are more questions.

It’s Elena’s father, a history professor, who provides research and detective suggestions. But does Sparrow really want to know the truth? She slowly realises she can only find answers to her questions if she solves the Boy’s mystery. Ghosts, mysteries, and family drama are always pushing and pulling at Sparrow to make life decisions that she doesn’t want to make.

This middle-grade novel is a debut book from new talent-on-the-block Victoria Piontek. I read an advanced copy and would recommend it, though it is more suited for a younger reading audience than I usually review, 8- to 12-year-olds. It’s a funny, poignant, and adventure-filled story populated with both endearing characters and despicable children and adult villains, an entertaining combination for any reader.

Piontek grew up in the southern United States, which is why she is able to write so visually and personally about the surroundings of Cattail County. She is a Literary Associate for agent Laura Rennet, has been a teacher, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hollins University. You can check out the Goodreads’ reader reviews at

Reviewed by Joy Llewellyn. I was more into aliens than ghosts when I was young, as ghosts seemed scary and aliens weren’t. Now, how/why did I decide that? I did like the “dead people” the boy could see in The Sixth Sense and the weirdo creatures in Beetlejuice. What’s your favourite? I’d like to hear them at