Griffin, Sarah Maria. Other Words for Smoke. Greenwillow Books, 2019. 337p. ISBN: 9780062408914. $17.99. HS OT ****
In the village of Iona Crescent, a house of magic and mystery is home to an aging psychic, a beautiful girl, a talking cat, a fearsome owl-like creature, and two bewildered teenage twins, Mae and Rossa. Handed off to their aunt Rita by embattled and embittered parents, the fourteen-year-olds long for the comforts of home and companionship they shared in childhood, but are confronted by burgeoning adulthood, deeply-rooted secrets, and something sinister lurking within the walls.
Rita, a fortune-teller by trade is also a medium, mystic, and witch who apprentices the teens to hone their tarot-reading and clairvoyant skills. Sweet James and Bobby the Cat, magical creatures who thrive on hate and love, tempt and lure the teens into acts of sabotage and dreadful cruelty. Alternating between second- and third-person perspectives, a story unfolds linking the twins through flashbacks and foreshadowing to a chain of lost loves, broken promises, and ill-fated adventures in an otherworldly and surreal plane that exists through a magical rift.
The language in this book is lyrical, symbolic, and vivid, but cryptic at times; frequent footnotes meant to clue in the reader to deeper layers of meaning sometimes distract instead. Nonetheless, Griffin expertly taps into the angst of unrequited love, jealousy, homesickness, and fearsome things that hide behind closed doors, both real and supernatural. Other Words for Smoke combines the magical realism and redemption of Skellig with the complex fantastical quest and adolescent zest of The Raven Boys, sharing the heartfelt familial drama of both precursors. It will appeal to older teen readers who like to meander through dreams but don’t shy away from the stuff of nightmares.
Rebecca Jung, Belvedere Tiburon Library