Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

I know, I know I said I wasn’t going to read any more supernatural-type books for awhile. But this book landed in my lap, and it is so pretty, and autographed by the authors to boot, so fine.

Jennie Lovell believes in ghosts. Her twin brother died in the Civil War just before the story begins, and she feels his presence on a daily basis. Then, at the beginning of the story, Jennie receives news that her fiancé, who is also her cousin (by marriage, people, before you get the heebie jeebies. And even if they weren’t cousins by marriage, that’s how things were often done way back when, so go with it in historical fiction).

Jennie’s place in her uncle and aunt’s house becomes unstable (she’s an orphan), and she begins having ghostly experiences of her dead fiance. He’s angry about something, and she feels compelled to discover what. These searches lead her to befriend a spiritualist photographer (eh? eh? Picture in the title? No? Fine).

Most remarkable about the book are the illustrations. I’ll admit: I hated them at first. I thought they did not reflect the spirit (har har) of the times and instead gave a Civil War setting too much of a contemporary graphic novel vibe. But soon I got into the illustrations, which are set up to be Jennie’s scrap book, complete with her commentary and various items she pilfers from her adventures. Jennie’s notes, scribbled amongst the “photographs,” enrich the story and strengthen her voice. In the end, I decided I was sold on the illustrations.

The front and back covers of this book read like an invitation list for popular authors: Holly Black (twice), Brian Selznick, Michael Chabon, Kit Reed, and Judy Blundell. I was actually a little worried. Did the authors need this much endorsement to get readers to pick up the book? Maybe, maybe not. But the story and setting were engrossing, and that’s all I can ask for as a reader.

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