June 13th, 2018

Books

Mystery of the Witches' Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton

Mystery of the Witches Bridge by Barbee Carleton

So as [personal profile] rachelmanija mentioned in her review of this book, we were able to get together in person recently (which was awesome; hi Rachel!) and we got into a conversation about childhood book favorites, which led to discovering that she's the only other person I know (at least the only one I've talked to about it) who remembers this book! I really loved it when I was a kid, despite having a copy that was missing the cover and a few pages, which meant it took me forever, as an adult, to figure out the title and author in order to pick up a used copy on Amazon. But eventually I got my hands on it, and I remembered that I'd enjoyed rereading it, but it's been long enough that I've forgotten most of the details, so we decided to reread and post about it at the same time.

It's not hard to see why I liked this so much as a kid. It's got good character arcs, a nicely plotted little mystery, and a very strong sense of place. It's set in the salt marshes off the coast of Massachusetts, which as a kid, I didn't even realize was a real place (although there are distinct references to real places, particularly Boston, that are obvious to me now). I remember thinking of it the same way you think of a fantasy land, as a sort of vague coastal "somewhere" with stone causeways, old hayfields gone back to treacherous quicksand, and waterways winding through endless fields of grass punctuated with islands. Rachel and I were trying to think of other books set in that area, and couldn't come up with any. The unique setting, vividly described, is half the fun of this book. I've been in similar places to this -- not this exactly, but marshy river estuaries along the sea, and this book really gets that eerie, lonely feeling of the grasslands and wide-open sky.

The general plot is Treasure-Island-esque kids-adventure-story catnip. Thirteen-year-old orphan Dan Pride comes home to the rambling stone house of his Puritan ancestors, filled with secrets, neighborhood feuds, and possibly buried treasure somewhere on the old Pride property. The emotional plot and mystery plot go together well, and I really enjoyed Dan's building friendships with the other characters in the book. Basically it's a fun, fast read with a fantastic sense of place, and I can tell I'll be reading it again.

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