Tim Bowler, Author . S&S/McElderry $16.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-689-84573-4

In the riveting opening scene of this novel set in a small seaside town, Ella Parnell is kidnapped, and a vicious ransom note is left for her family. Guilt weighs heavily on older brother Fin, who left Ella and their younger brother, Sam, alone in the house that night while he went to see a friend's new computer. Bowler's (River Boy) atmospheric tale unfolds slowly at first, but the narrative soon picks up the pace as the full impact of Ella's disappearance falls on the family. While Fin battles his remorse, Sam's conversations with his imaginary friend begin to take on a sinister bent. And it quickly becomes clear that the father knows more than he is letting on. Bowler's prose is alternately mystical and workmanlike; the story feels like a metaphysical allegory one moment, a straightforward thriller the next. Ultimately the two threads join: the plot enhanced by the otherworldly elements (the voice of a dead girl speaks to young Sam, a "magic pendulum" seems to point to Ella's location on a map) converges with supernatural elements made more real by the emotionally charged tale. Bowler lays bare the portrait of a family in crisis (even if the denouement seems rushed and somewhat sensationalistic). The imagery of abandoned lighthouses, darkened beaches and desperate midnight excursions make for a believable, frightening backdrop to an immersive read. Ages 12-up. (May)

Reviewed on: 06/02/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Genre: Children's
Paperback - 191 pages - 978-0-19-271880-8
Paperback - 978-0-689-84740-0
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