cover image Sang Spell

Sang Spell

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum Books, $16 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82007-6

The prolific Naylor (the Shiloh trilogy; the Alice series) combines elements of Brigadoon and Lost Horizon with little-known historical lore to create a haunting story of a youth's journey from dissolution to wholeness. Numb with grief after his widowed mother dies in a car crash, Josh, 15, sets out alone to hitchhike from Massachusetts to his aunt in Dallas. Somewhere in the Appalachians he gets beaten and robbed, and winds up being taken to the isolated, primitive village of Canara. The residents are Melungeons, people of Mediterranean ancestry who were already living in the mountains when the English first settled the Virginia coast. With their black hair, blue eyes and coppery skin, they resemble Josh, but despite their similar looks, Josh has nothing in common with these insular and unworldly people--or does he? He doesn't want to know, and like the venomous Kaspar, another accidental resident, he is desperate to return to the world ""beyond."" But no matter whether he walks, swims or rows, the scenery shifts uncannily and Josh ends up in Canara again. That these and other fantastical happenings seem as real as Josh's personal turmoil is a tribute to Naylor's narrative skill. With imagination and sensitivity, she lightly drives home the message that ""to go forward, you must go back""--a theme that resonates long after the close of this grittily enchanting tale. Ages 11-up. (Oct.)