Genres: Gothic, Historical, Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Published by Scholastic Inc. on September 29, 2015
After her Aunt Laura's recent death, Cecilia's uncle has come to retrieve her from boarding school and take her home again to Sanctuary, her uncle's estate that holds more than just memories. Even the local townsfolk are convinced that the isolated island mansion contains trapped spirits. Cecilia's entire family is, or rather, was tied to Sanctuary. Her father killed himself when he was young, just after the stock market crashed and his entire fortune was lost. After the loss of her husband, her mother was put away into a local psychiatric hospital, and Cecilia hasn't seen her since. Not long after this, her grandmother and her elder sister perished suddenly when the cottage where they were spending the night caught fire. To keep her safe, Cecilia's aunt sent her away to boarding school, but now, with her death, Cecilia must return at the whims of her uncle.
Many things have changed in her absence. The cook, Anna, is her uncle's new bride, and Anna's nieces, Patricia and Mary, have come to live and work. Her cousin Ben is more reticent than usual and seems to be hiding a secret. A visitor, local professor Eli Bauer, has come to Sanctuary to study and possibly buy rare books from the library. Despite these changes, Cecilia still feels she's living very much in the past: hearing her sister's whispers, seeing fairy lights, discovering the legacy of a woman killed at Sanctuary long ago. As Cecilia tries to piece together the secrets of Sanctuary with that of her own family, she also grows closer to Eli and runs the risk of raising her uncle's deadly ire. Once he might have been a loving man, but now Cecilia more than suspects his cruel nature, especially since she believes he might have had everything to do with her mother's commitment. However, much more evil forces are at work as Cecilia learns more about Amoret, Captain Winship, and the true nature of Sanctuary. Is it really a house filled with spirits? If so, Cecilia is the only one left to make things right, but her risks are many as missteps could mean she's declared mad, possibly harmed by her uncle, or worse, claimed--as her family before her--by the malefic phantasms occupying Sanctuary.
“Something stirred deep inside of me, something primal and potent. I felt like I was coming home and that I was farther away than I’d ever been.”
Last year at ALA Annual, I was exploring booths when I ran across a woman picking up a book. That woman was Jennifer McKissack overcome with emotion at seeing her book in print and displayed for readers. We were speaking a few minutes, and ever since then, I’ve been trying to get this book out of my TBR pile! I am glad I did. It is more than simply another ghostly paranormal story. The setting of Sanctuary is eerie, yet conjures up some familiarity for the reader in returning to a place of our own past and finding it both similar and unknown.
Though it seems more of a haunted house story, the setting does not dwell heavily on the house and exploring the house, but rather Cecilia and her slow maturation from childhood thoughts and memories and justifying that with the person she is now and who she will be in the future. I loved this juxtaposition of past versus present and future for Cecilia. Her self-identity is in crisis and yet she is the only one who can fix herself. Through a slowly spellbinding and mysterious rhetoric, Cecilia unravels mysteries and commits herself to be a curse breaker and do what generations of women before her have ultimately failed and been trapped themselves at attempting–to free Amoret and the spirits of Sanctuary.
Along with a strong theme of feminism or the hidden strengths of women, there is a deep sense of ancestry and heritage that is significant in the novel revolving around Cecilia and the Acadians of Canada. For those who are unfamiliar, Acadia was an area colonized by French settlers which is now part of Quebec, the Maritime provinces of Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island [of Anne of Green Gables fame] etc.), and parts of Maine. Acadians, while mostly French, were also made up of the Mi’kimaq who were people indigenous to that area. The history contained in the book is something I missed the first time around, but it plays a key role for Cecilia and Sanctuary. Amoret, whom Cecelia’s mother and sister were obsessed with, was Acadian and along with her family and other Acadians were forcibly removed from their land by the British, part of the Great Upheaval during the French and Indian War. (Fun fact: When the British sent a portion of the Acadians to France, a majority of them resettled in southern Louisiana thereby making the area Acadian or “Cajun”, the heritage of which is still significant today.)
There are some romantic elements as Cecilia finds the professor, Eli, intriguing and begins to confide in him, since he appears to be sympathetic and kind and altogether unlike her terrorizing uncle. As their trust grows, Cecilia finds herself falling in love with him when she never thought something was possible, and Eli seems to love her too. Still, Cecilia knows he’s holding something back from her. She grows conflicted with her relationships, her past, and her own mental state which she figures must be coloring his judgment of her. These doubts and secrets have the potential to ruin any chance at future happiness.
Sanctuary is written with haunting precision, like being slowly drawn into a web by a malicious spider. The historical details were woven throughout with care and added rich depth to the story. This book is perfect for those nights of fall and winter! Be sure to curl up with a nice hot cup of tea or cocoa and don’t forget to find a nice haunted mansion for inspiration!