Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire (DAW, May 6th,2014)-Rose Marshall died in 1952 at the tender age of 16, and she’s been haunting the highways and byways of America ever since, helping the new dead get where they need to go. It’s not a terrible afterlife…after all, when someone gives her a warm coat and a cup of coffee, she becomes flesh and blood, at least for a short time, and she can enjoy being among the living again. It may not be much, but she definitely doesn’t take a hot cheeseburger and crispy French fries for granted. Her hub is the Last Dance Diner, full of chrome, round edges, and shining upholstery; a throwback to the year she died, and a poignant reminder of when she was alive. The Last Dance is manned by Emma, a bean sidhe without a family to protect, and is a safe haven for Rose, and other hitchers like her. Unfortunately, Rose’s death wasn’t an accident, not exactly, and the man at the root of it, Bobby Cross, is still out there, preying on innocents. Rose has always wanted to stop Bobby, and she may soon get her chance, but at what cost?
I loved this book. I guess I could stop there, but… Sparrow Hill Road is told in first person by Rose and is alternately presented in present day and flashbacks, skipping through time as deftly as Rose falls through the layers of twilight on the ghostroads. Sparrow Hill Road isn’t one of those books that takes its protagonist, gives her/him a big problem to solve, and points them in the right direction, eyes on the prize and nothing else matters. Rather, Rose’s story is a somewhat meandering one, but that’s not a bad thing, because the stories she shares about her time, and her duty, on the ghostroads, are all necessary to who Rose has become by the end of the book. She’s definitely not that 16 year old girl anymore, and there’s a road weariness to her (rather appropriately) that only serves to highlight her aura of melancholy. That doesn’t mean Rose is unhappy. She’s not, and in fact, she takes a certain pleasure in her “job” and is rather frank about the things she can experience now that she, erm, never got to experience before her death. However, her memory of Gary, the boy she loved and planned to marry, is always with her, and carries a sadness all its own. For some context, Sparrow Hill Road takes place in the same “world” as Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid series and she’s created this wonderful ghost world where each spirit has its place, and some are better left alone, and a world where cars can become imbued with spirits, taking on a life of their own, which she uses to fantastic effect at the book’s conclusion.
You’d think Rose would be bitter, but she’s not, and that’s part of what makes this book so special. Stopping Bobby Cross is important, but it’s become more than just a means to avenge her own death. When she cocks her thumb and waits for her next ride, one gets the distinct impression that she waits in pleasant anticipation of who she will meet next, and there’s a certain freedom for her being on the open road, having a cup of coffee and a cheeseburger with Emma at the Last Dance Diner every now and then, and of course, helping the newly dead home, or wherever it is they choose to go. This unusual, sometimes dark, but rather lovely and even poignant, book is a road trip that I was glad I took, and if things aren’t wrapped up in a neat bow at the end, that’s ok, it just means there will be more to look forward to from Rose and her very unique friends.