The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond, Holler of the Fireflies


The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond by Amanda Glaze; Union Square & Co., 352 pages ($18.99) Ages 12 and up.

17-year-old twin sisters support themselves holding séances and appearing on stage with a touring Spiritualist show in this sparkling debut novel, a riveting supernatural thriller set against the vivid historic backdrop of 1885 Sacramento and the 19th century women’s rights movement.

Edie and Violet Bond are runaways in hiding from their father, a preacher who would lock them in an insane asylum for their embrace of their dead mother’s Spiritualist gifts. Violet, an aspiring actress, can open the veil between life and death. Edie can cross into the spirit world but is racked with guilt that she was unable to save her mother.

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As the novel begins, the sisters are preparing for a séance for a wealthy spinster who wishes to contact the spirit of her dead cat. Afterward Edie attends a speech by feminist lawyer Laura De Force outside the iron gates of the Sacramento insane asylum to protest a man’s forced hospitalization of his wife for taking medication to prevent pregnancy.

When the police arrive to break up the crowd, Edie flees with the help of a young man, who turns up later at the hotel. He is a journalist seeking to interview the young Spiritualists, intending to expose them as a fraud. (His interview with the healer, who challenges the accepted medical practices of the day and personally experienced the barbaric “treatment” in an insane asylum, is particularly enlightening.) When mediums start to disappear and one is found murdered, Edie suspects a dark spirit has crossed over to the world of the living.

In crisp, colorful prose, Glaze brings 19th century California to vivid life, the raised wooden sidewalks, the carriages, the stench of manure, the gas lights (“the second-best hotel in Sacramento had not yet been fitted for electric lighting”) . A fellow medium, wearing bloomers, invites the twins to try out her borrowed bicycle.

Glaze offers thrilling, page-turning suspense – and a terrifying villain – as the novel hurtles to its dramatic conclusion.

In a fascinating note at the end, Glaze explains that the book was inspired by her great-grandmother Edie Bond and twin sister, Violet, both Spiritualists who conducted seances. A photograph of the twins at age 16 is included.

Holler of the Fireflies by David Barclay Moore; Alfred A. Knopf, 354 pages ($17.99) Ages 10 to 12.

12-year-old Javari Harris leaves his home in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for a life-changing experience at a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp at a West Virginia Christian college in this poignant novel by the author of “The Stars Beneath Our Feet,” which won the Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

Javari’s dad works in a hardware store, his mom is a home-health aide, the family qualifies for food stamps, and the gentrification of the neighborhood means rents are rising. The family returns home from a protest of police brutality to find an eviction notice posted on the apartment door.

Javari’s worry about being evicted and a frightening encounter with a big bald white guy on the bus get his trip off to a rocky start. His discomfort with meeting new people in this foreign environment is magnified by the fact that he is one of a very few Black students at camp. He finds himself being interrogated by a white security guard and stuck on a group project with a white girl who refers to a featured speaker with an Afro as a “thug” and calls a Black camper “a big monkey.” (Javari observes: ” “I thought Becca’s string of code needed reversing.”)

The campus has been under siege from a night-time prankster who shoots paintballs and steals muffins, and Javari meets this nocturnal visitor, a light-skinned Black boy a year older who vows to show him the “real” Horsewhip Hollow. Their night-time rambles on a dirt bike open a whole new world to Javari, overturning his preconceptions about the “hillbillies” who live there. Among other things he visits a ramshackle dwelling where Black musicians play and later a meeting of the Affrilachian Book Society, Black mountain folk who have lived in the area for decades. He also witnesses firsthand the damage done by coal mining to the local environment including the pollution of the drinking water.

The STEM camp and a collection of kids all interested in science makes an interesting backdrop to Cricket and Javari’s friendship story, with a colorful cast of characters including Black entrepreneurs from New York City who use the camp to test out their new virtual reality game and fascinating learning experiences including the use of software to create unique bird calls.

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