Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Marcus, fresh out of foster care following his mother’s untimely death, goes to live withgrief cottage his mother’s aunt Charlotte, a solitary sort who paints landscapes of the South Carolina island where she resides.

Marcus, despite his recent personal turmoil, is a dependable kid.  Being as his mother was a single working parent, he’s learned how to run a household, and this puts him in good stead with his great-aunt.  Although Charlotte keeps to herself, the two get along a fair amount, and Marcus learns to give her room, which in turn gives him plenty of time to sort out his island surroundings.  Two things of his interest are a clutch of loggerhead turtle eggs in the dunes next to Charlotte’s house, and a ruined house at the north end of the island that the locals call Grief Cottage, named because of a family who died there when Hurricane Hazel hit the island in 1954.

Marcus obsesses about the cottage, particularly after he first senses a presence there, and then more so when the ghost appears to him.  It’s in Marcus’s mind that the ghost is the teenage son of the family that perished, and identifying this family becomes his main goal.  That, and being the caregiver for Charlotte, who hurts herself during a fall.

Marcus, despite being a solitary type, and caring for one, finds that there are some things that he doesn’t have to shoulder alone.  He meets some unlikely wayfarers on his island journey of self-discovery, including the unforgettable Lachicotte Hayes, antique car restorer extraordinaire and Charlotte’s close friend, who becomes a stalwart supporter of Marcus, and Coral Upchurch, a wheelchair-bound ninety-five year old who knows more about Grief Cottage than the locally produced history books of the area.

Grief Cottage is a quietly written but lively novel.  There’s no sensationalism or mind-blowing action here, just an incisive pondering of bereavement and guilt, as told by an eleven-year old kid who’s seen too much for his lifetime.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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