Rebecca Brown and her dad have always lived in NYC. Mr. Brown, travels on occasion for work. This time he will be gone too long for a neighbor to watch Rebecca. Rebecca is headed to New Orleans to live with a woman she has only meet once, Claudia and her twelve-year-old daughter, Aurelia. In order to get into the exclusive academy for her sophomore year, Rebecca must pretend she is Claudia's niece. Rebecca gets along very well with Aunt Claudia and Aurelia which is good since they live in a shotgun house and there isn't much room.
Rebecca doesn't care much for New Orleans. Everyone seems concerned with money, family ties, status and who knows who. At Rebecca's new school, the students from the most connected families are known simply as Them. The Gray's, Bowman's and Sutton's are the core families.
Helena Bowman and Marianne Sutton are the It girls at Mead Academy. Rebecca doesn't like or trust either. There's only one living person Rebecca enjoys spending time with Anton Gray. Both know their relationship would not be accepted so they do their best to keep it a secret. The only other friend Rebecca has is Lisette, a ghost. Lisette is around Rebecca's age, she died in 1853 under suspicious circumstances. Lisette has been haunting the cemetery, across from Aunt Claudia's house since her death. She can't go in peace until the truth comes out. When Lisette was alive she was a free person of color. She and her mother lived in Faubourg Treme. Rebecca spends much of her time in the cemetery talking to Lisette.
The author does a wonderful job of incorporating a lot of New Orleans rich history:
Rebecca decided to smuggle her homemade sandwich in to the library. She liked looking at the maps of Louisiana and the Caribbean, back when France and Spain and Britain were fighting over territory and power. It made her think of pirates and buccaneers, of plantation ladies and dashing explorers though, she knew, this was a naive and romantic view. Back in the days when Haiti was called Saint-Dominique, it was known as the Pearl of the Antilles, a place of incredible riches where the French produced sugar and coffer and rum for their entire empire. But this was only possible because of hundreds of thousands of slaves. And the brutal treatment of these people led to the slave rebellion and Haitian revolution, which was incredibly bloody and terrible. Rebecca's class had been story it in history. Anyone with the means to escape Haiti fled the fighting and thousands of these refugees came to New Orleans like Lisette's grandparents. With them they'd brought their music and their food and their religion, voodoo. According to her teacher they changed the the culture of New Orleans forever. And now, since the hurricane, people had moved to the city from Mexico and Central America, to work on rebuilding houses; the city would change again.
After I read the passage, I knew it was the one I would share, though I had many to choose from. I especially loved when Lisette gives Rebecca a tour of New Orleans. The two hold hands so Rebecca can see the many ghosts of the city. The ghosts speak many languages and are of many ethnic backgrounds. This was one of my favorite scenes in the book. It was a pleasure to visualize the two walking down the streets of New Orleans invisible to the living.
Sometimes, with a novel when one part of the story thrives with life the other part suffers. This didn't happen with Ruined. The author has written a beautiful story all around. I loved it.
I must thank Casey at Bookworm 4life for bringing this book to my attention. I have a thing for novels with ghost especially with a hint of a mystery. While Ruined was on my radar when I found out Lisette was Haitian I bumped it up on my reading queue. I am very happy I did. Every time a customer mentions New Orleans I am quick to put Ruined in their hands. Ages 14up.
Doret knows YA. She's bookseller, reader and reviewer. When she's not helping here with lists and other features here at Color Online, Doret blogs at Happy Nappy Bookseller. Check her out.