cover image Clara and the Hoodoo Man

Clara and the Hoodoo Man

Elizabeth Partridge. Dutton Books, $14.99 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-525-45403-8

While digging herbs on Red Owl Mountain, Clara Raglan and her little sister Bessie strike up a conversation with Old Sugar, the hoodoo man. Their mother has warned them that Old Sugar puts hexes on people, but the girls timidly respond to the old man's friendship. Then Bessie is struck by mountain fever. Momma blames Clara. ""You should never have talked with that two-shadow man,"" she cries, collapsing into sobs. And Clara, ashamed, has to take a big risk. Should she fear the hex or defy her mother and fetch the hoodoo man to save her sister's life? This exceptional first novel is as clear and sharp as a heady whiff of sage. It features luminescent writing full of sensuous images, heavy with persimmon and willow bark and hollyhocks; readers can hear the chickens scratching and feel the big pots steaming. It is subtle in characterization; Clara is aware of her mother's big and small moods, but from a young girl's perspective. It is also dramatically compelling, climaxing in Clara's fearful ride up the mountain in the pitch black. Partridge, an herbalist and acupuncturist, has based her novel on the story told her by the real-life Clara, an octogenarian African American woman raised in rural Tennessee. One hopes the author has more stories to share. Ages 8-11. (July)