Just South of Home

320p. S. & S. May 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534419384.
RedReviewStarGr 4–7—Sarah firmly believes in science, but when her cousin Janie's pilfering lands them in the middle of their town's greatest mystery and shame, she may start to believe in the otherworldly. Sarah was supposed to spend a quiet summer with her little brother Ellis, but once Janie steals a trinket from the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, they unknowingly disturb the spirits resting there and come to find out more about the town's unsettling racist history. Now they must come together as a family to heal the restless ghosts, called haints, that they have unleashed onto the town. All of the haints who haunt the church are victims of hate crimes, and readers' horror will come more from the atrocities committed against them in this rural Georgia town than from the ghosts themselves. Strong does not gloss over the Ku Klux Klan's presence in the town, nor the lynchings and church burnings they carried out. These topics are addressed boldly but gracefully, acknowledging the pain of the past while using it to drive the plot forward. The pace goes quickly because of an intricate mix of Southern mystery, history, and a ghost story that creeps but doesn't scare; readers don't know which they'll be getting as they turn the page. Strong's prose presents a world so real readers will feel the warm Georgia breeze, or the haints' chilling breath down your neck.
VERDICT Readers will need a sweet tea to calm their nerves after this emotional adventure. First purchase for all collections.

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