Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Ghost Stories
Publication Date: 6 May 2014
Paperback: 432 Pages
Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.
It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.
They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.
You can’t kill what’s already dead.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone but possibly the start of a new series
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print ARC
Why did I read this book: I am a huge fan of Seanan McGuire’s books and when I first saw this, I immediately added the book to my TBR shelf.
Rose Marshall was sixteen years old in 1952 when she died on a hot summer night in her junior year of high school. Driven off road the night of the prom when she was on her way to meet her sweetheart Gary, she became the first victim of the man called Bobby Cross.
On that night, Rose got killed but she didn’t exactly stay dead. Ever since then her ghost has been racing the ghostroads of midnight America, leaving her life behind to become legend.
Because Rose? She is the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Diner, the Spirit of Sparrow Hill Road. She is the ghost in the green silk gown who terrifies those who come across her. She is the lonely ghost who has looked sixteen for the pasty sixty years. She is the one who helps those who die when traveling her roads to move on, even as she always stays behind.
The stories told about her have a little bit of truth in them but also a lot of exaggeration. It’s time she told her own tale.
Set in the same universe as Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels (which I have yet to read), Sparrow Hill Road is a collection of ghost stories featuring new characters and facets of that world. It originated as a series of short stories first published at Edge of Propinquity from January through December of 2010 and most of the original stories re-appear after being altered and edited by the author.
The stories here are divided into short, independent chapters with a few recurring characters and a uniting theme: that of Rose’s story. From a narrative point of view, the stories are presented in a non-linear fashion, moving back and forth in time out of order (although the latter stories in the book do appear to move more linearly toward a specific point in time than the earlier ones) as Rose reminisce about her life and her afterlife.
The collection reads as an engaging and surprisingly moving blend of Americana, thriller, and love story and as I read it, it struck me how the collection has a very distinctive feel from the rest of McGuire’s oeuvre. It’s not exactly the voice that gives that impression even though I thought Rose’s voice was strong and relatable. It’s more about the construct of the background story, the slow revelations about the ghostroads and the movers and shakers of this world, all of it stemming from what I understand to be a very American tradition of ghost-related storytelling.
Painting a really vivid portrait of imagined American ghostroads and its cars, highways, truck stops and dinners the stories invite us to learn about a the plethora of supernatural beings that inhabit them, feed off them and haunt them. Rose herself is a hitchhiker who can become corporeal and interact with the living when she receives gifts – a coat will just do the trick. She also does the odd job as a psychopomp, conducting recently deceased souls to the end of the road, so to speak.
Her personal story is one that links to this rich background in many ways. For example, I just loved how Rose loves cars – the mechanics of them, the feel of them – to the point of being able to sometimes communicate with them. In a way it makes perfect that she became what she became after her death (and this is addressed in-narrative when we learn about her family history too).
This is a collection that probably reads better when unhurriedly consumed, little morsels at a time. Because the truth is, those stories have a level of repetitiveness that (although understandable given their nature as short stories) when read in one sitting, stand out.
Nonetheless, I lost the count of how many times this book brought me to tears with its touching portrayal of Rose’s life.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The Dead Girl in the Diner
THERE’S THIS VOCABULARY WORD— “linear.” It means things that happen in a straight line, like highways and essays about what you did on your summer vacation. It means A comes before B, and B comes before C, all the way to the end of the alphabet, end of the road . . . end of the line. That’s linear.
The living are real fond of linear. The dead . . . not so much. It’s harder to make everything fall into a straight line when nothing begins until you die. The dead begin our “lives” as newborns with heads full of memories, and it can make even the most straightforward story a little difficult to follow. I’ll do my best.
My name is Rose Marshall. This is not a story about my life, although my life will occasionally intrude on the proceedings. It’s messy and unfortunate. It’s also unavoidable. Sorry about that. Only not really, because like I said, the dead aren’t all that invested in “linear,” and I’ve been dead for a long damn time.
I was born in 1936. The country was just starting to come out of the Great Depression. Skirts were tight, movies were big business, and everyone was trying to put their best foot forward. Of course, it wasn’t sunshine and roses for everybody. My parents were still tightening their belts and pulling up their bootlaces when little Rosie Marshall made the scene, just one more mouth to feed and one more untried heart to break. They wouldn’t be feeding me for long. Daddy split when I was eight years old. Me, I made it all the way to 1952, sixteen short years of chances and choices and opportunities. And then it was over.
I died on a hot summer night in my junior year of high school, driven off the road by a man who should never have been there. My body was battered almost past recognition by the accident. My spirit fared a little better, sweet sixteen for the rest of time, missing the warm coat of life’s embrace.
I was alive, and then I wasn’t. Someday, they’ll say the same thing about everyone. Someday, they’ll say the same thing about you.
There are a lot of names for people like me, the ones who can’t let go, even when the movie’s over and the credits finish rolling. Specter, haunt, phantom . . . and my personal favorite, the sweet and simple “ghost.” “Ghost” is a lot like “linear”: it’s a word that doesn’t fuck around pretending to be something it’s not. There are even a lot of names for me in specific, names that try to dance around the word “Rose.” I’m the phantom prom date, the woman at the diner, the girl in the green silk gown, and the walking girl of route 42. But most of all, I’m the ghost of Sparrow Hill Road. Rosie Marshall. Just one more girl who raced and lost in the hand of the forest, the shade of the hill, on the hairpin curves of that damned deadly hill.
People call me a lot of things these days. You can call me Rose.
Now come with me.
Rating: 7 – Very Good.
Reading Next: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Because we loved it so much, we are giving away two copies of Sparrow Hill Road, open to all. The contest will run until 17 May 2014 at 12:01AM EST. Use the form below to enter. Good luck!