Be careful what you search for
Emma Guthrie expects this summer to be like any other in the South Carolina Low country- hot and steamy with plenty of beach time alongside her best friend and secret crush, Cooper Beaumont, and Emma’s ever-present twin brother, Jack. But then a mysterious eighteenth-century message in a bottle surfaces, revealing a hidden pirate bounty. Lured by the adventure, the trio discovers the treasure and unwittingly unleashes an ancient Gullah curse that attacks Jack with the wicked flesh-eating Creep and promises to steal Cooper’s soul on his approaching sixteenth birthday.
But when a strange girl bent on revenge appears, demon dogs become a threat, and Jack turns into a walking skeleton; Emma has no choice but to learn hoodoo magic to undo the hex, all before the last days of summer- and her friends-are lost forever.
Emma Guthrie lives for the summers her and her twin brother Jack, spend visiting their father on the island of St Helena. A quiet and self-contained loner, happy to live in the shadow of her more popular brother, Emma spends the school year counting down the weeks to her lazy summer of sunbathing, swimming, and sailing. The biggest pull however, is not the weeks of freedom from school or even the breathtaking scenery, begging to be captured by her oil pastels, but her yearning to be reunited with her best friend and heart’s desire, Cooper.
Like a sandcastle at high tide, Emma’s hopes of a repeat of the previous eight idyllic summers are quickly washed away. The discovery of a centuries old note in a bottle changes everything. One moment her biggest concern is not getting caught mooning over Cooper’s recently acquired masculine jaw line, the next she is buried up to the neck in centuries old curses, racing to save her brother from a gruesome, putrid smelling curse and her best friend from a fate he considers worse than death.
At just fourteen, Emma is younger than most young adult protagonists. Never the less I found her immediately likeable and I thoroughly enjoyed her development from a malleable young girl, tagging along with her dominant sibling, despite her own misgivings, in to a confident young woman, who trusts her own instincts and embraces her talents.
Emma is assisted in this transformation through her apprenticeship with Miss Delia. Like the elements she conjures to aid her work, Hoo-doo “granny”, Miss Delia, is a force to be reckoned with. This 97-year-old eccentric muscled in to my heart with her feisty spirit, youthful energy and no nonsense attitude and stole the show. Even if I wasn’t invested in Emma’s story I would check out further installments of The Hoo-Doo Apprentice series just to spend more time with this whirlwind nonagenarian
The exploration of root magic (hoo-doo) and Gullah culture was a fascinating addition to the paranormal genre. My ignorance of both only added unpredictability to the storyline and my compulsive page turning.
Jack was a thoroughly unpleasant character, sparking all of my long resolved sisterly irritation. I found him so unlikeable that despite being submitted to the most gruesome affliction you could imagine, I was unable to summons up any sympathy for him.
Emma’s relationship with Cooper is one that is based on years of friendship and shared summers. My fifteen-year-old remembered self could completely identify with the high emotion of a first crush, the self-conscious awkwardness of growing awareness to a friend and the fear of rejection.
The sweetness of Emma’s interactions with Cooper is in direct contrast with the public displays of affection, insta-love and secretive behavior we witness between Jack and the mysterious Maggie. Viewed from Emma’s perspective, Jack and Maggie’s relationship, not dissimilar from many I’ve read (and swooned over) in YA fiction, felt unnatural and uncomfortable.
The sweetness of the character interactions, the freshness of the paranormal elements and the age of the protagonists would make this the perfect book for someone transitioning away from the middle grade category in to young adult.
Verdict: I found myself sitting up late at night unwilling to put the book down, while Emma still struggled to master her new vocation and save the two boys’ closest to her heart.
Reviewed by Caroline