Spirit’s Key, the first book by Edith Cohn, is a middle-grade story that was as lovely as Eliza Wheeler’s beautiful cover art. Spirit Holden lives on the remote Bald Island, where she is considered an outsider (or “Dingbatter”) because she was born on the mainland. Her outsider status isn’t helped by the fact that her father has the ability to predict the future, which is often fraught with disaster for the residents of the island. Spirit has just lost her beloved dog, Sky, who was her only comfort after her mother passed away.
During his doggie life, Sky was as much an outsider as his owner. He was a “baldie,” part of a pack of wild dogs who live on the island. Superstitious villagers are afraid of baldies because they seem vicious and are believed to be malevolent spirits. When baldies start dying, beginning with Sky, Spirit is determined to find out why. Villagers have begun to sicken too, and they believe that it is because the baldies are somehow spreading disease. Spirit is determined to save the baldies, and to convince her neighbors that the baldies are not dangerous. When Sky’s ghost appears to her, Spirit begins to follow him on dangerous excursions, trying to ravel the mystery of what is threatening the dogs and humans on the island. The stakes get even higher when Spirit’s father is taken away by the town doctor and quarantined with other adults who are showing signs of illness. Spirit’s determination does not go unnoticed, and soon she has gained the help of Nector Hatterask, an island boy whose family has been suspicious of hers since they came to the island (although Spirit’s father has saved their lives with his predictions at least once). Nector is a great crime-solving partner and slowly but surely, he shows Spirit that he is a friend as well.
Spirit’s Key is an exciting book: it’s a great mixture of mystery, magic, and coming-of-age. As Spirit gives chase, she begins to discover that she has inherited her father’s abilities. Although certain details can be a bit confusing at times–there’s a lot going on in this book–Spirit’s Key is full of adventure, gripping, and beautifully-written. Bald Island is a place rich with history, stories passed down from one generation to the next which have great importance to the small society. Each colorful character in the village relies on Spirit or her father in one way or another, but they are afraid of what they don’t know; in the end, it is this fear–not devil spirits or a plague–that causes the most chaos on Bald Island
Spirit’s strength really shines through this heartfelt read; she has lost nearly everything, doesn’t have any friends, and yet is still determined to help those who are suspicious of her. She loves animals and is fiercely loyal to Sky’s memory. Spirit’s Key has a simple message about accepting those who are different, and asks its young readers to truly consider their beliefs before making judgments about others. As each character casts off their fears, they find that they are among friends. Perhaps this is a message often sent in children’s literature, but it is an important one nonetheless, Spirit’s Key remains an imaginative and compelling read.