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Readers Advisory: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

HarperTeen, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062241524, October 2014

It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp — the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed. Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance — and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

‘Tis the season for scaring oneself silly, and this paranormal chiller will fit the bill for Southern Gothic fans. Atmospheric and tightly woven, Parker’s story of a sister who refuses to let malevolent swamp spirits swallow up her beloved brother will tingle a few spines. Surprising depth comes from the inclusion of Lenora May, the false sister who comes from the swamp. Everyone except Sterling forgets Phin immediately, but in his place they remember Lenora May. Even Sterling remembers growing up with this cuckoo’s child, although she realizes some outside force has planted those memories in her mind. She immediately assumes Lenora May is the villain, but as the story progresses, we learn that she’s as much a victim as the kids taken by the swamp. Complex relationships and motivations keep this bayou folktale from sinking into the marsh of oversimplification. The market is filling with Southern horror stories at the moment (Servants of the Storm and Fiendish being two examples released in the last couple of months) but despite a somewhat flat romance, this one isn’t just another face in the crowd.

Recommend to: Fans of Southern Gothic tales, although claims of similarity to Beautiful Creatures are overstated

To buy or not to buy: For larger YA collections.

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