Spirits of Ash and Foam: A Rain of the Ghosts Novel (Book 2). Greg Weisman. July 8, 2014. St. Martin’s Griffin. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Spirits of Ash and Foam is a young adult fantasy novel and the second installment in Greg Weisman’s Rain of the Ghosts series. Set in the fictional islands known as the Prospero Keys (more commonly known as the Ghost Keys to the locals), the story of Rain Cacique picks up immediately following the events of the first novel. Familiar characters return for a brand new adventure, including Sebastian Bohique (Rain’s grandfather), Charlie Dauphin (Rain’s best friend), and Miranda Guerrero (the new girl desperate to be Rain and Charlie’s friend). We also see new faces, both natural and supernatural.
In the first novel, a family heirloom comes into Rain’s possession and she takes it upon herself to help a group of ghosts in need. Her efforts are thwarted by an Australian tourist, but she soon recovers and wraps up the first part of her story in a thrilling and unforgettable adventure–and discovery! Rain realizes her true purpose now, often calling herself (in cocky and not-so-cocky ways) the Searcher and the Healer, a title bestowed upon her due to reasons further explained in the sequel. Her ultimate goal is to find the second zemi of which there are nine in total to complete the mystery. However, her plans come to a halt when a Taíno folktale becomes a reality, putting the lives of certain guests from the Nitaino Inn in danger. Rain feels personally responsible and sets out to put an end to an ancient story.
Throughout the novel, Rain dreams of old Taíno stories that help fuel her search for the next zemi and provide answers for other mysteries. The incorporation of such stories not only educates Rain about her family’s origin, but it introduces folklore storytelling to readers of a similar age, since this book is aimed at children and young adults. As Rain learns the significance of her surname and other details of her life, the audience also learns more about the Taíno culture. What I found most entertaining was how Rain, Charlie, and Miranda turned to Wikipedia for answers, but they also adopted some original research methods by browsing through books. Not many students today appreciate the art of research, so I’m glad this book demonstrates the intellectual curiosity of three 13 year olds (and I hope other readers realize the importance of research and expanding one’s knowledge).
In Book 2, we also continue to learn more about the narrator of the story, known as Opie, and the abilities he and his partner, Maq, possess. In many ways, the narrator and their partner remind me of R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars. Both droids look at the story unfold before them and comment on it along the way in the background. In Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed, a television documentary that premiered on The History Channel in May 2007, Dr. Jonathan Young explained, “R2-D2 and C-3PO are a little beside the action looking at it, so they are with us. They are observers and they add framing and perspective, and so they also serve as a Greek chorus.” A Greek chorus commented on the action, and both Opie and Maq serve that purpose and more in the story.
Rain continues to be one of my favorite female protagonists. She has her faults, but she reminds me of my 13 year old self. At that age, I didn’t have many fictional women of color to admire and look up to. Knowing that Rain exists and that many young adult readers, particularly girls, will be able to see themselves in her demonstrates the importance of representation. Like before, I’ll add another Star Wars reference into the mix and say that she is a combination of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa: naive and assertive.
Given the unique story and the diversity of characters, I highly recommend this novel for children, young adults, and grown-ups of all ages. Out of 3200 books aimed at children in 2013, only 93 had black protagonists. The need for diversity and representation is not only a problem in media, but an issue that is also being addressed in literature through empowering initiatives, such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Being exposed to diversity allows readers to have well-rounded experiences and open-minded perspectives. In a world filled with literature revolving around vampires and werewolves, Weisman’s story is not an ordinary ghost story. His storytelling process is something I especially admire because it’s something you don’t expect. It incorporates and weaves rich cultural elements not commonly found in young adult literature today.
Spirits of Ash and Foam will be released on July 8, 2014. You can pre-order it today!
This review can also be found at Goodreads.