Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead.
*from back cover (paperback edition) of Sparrow Hill Rd.
One of my favorite books I've read this year so far. And those are sometimes the hardest to review, aren't they? Sometimes it's hard to put your reading experience into anything much more than ACK, LOVED IT! GET IT NOW! But I'll try to elaborate a bit for y'all ;-)
Essentially, this is McGuire's fictional take on how the whole phantom teen girl on the side of the road ghost story / urban legend (I'm sure you grew up hearing some version of this staple ghost story at some point) might have originated. Here, the reader meets Rose Marshall, a sixteen year old girl in 1952, waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up to take her to prom. He's way late so she decides to borrow a car and go see if she can find him or find out what happened, why he didn't meet her at the agreed time. She takes her car up Sparrow Hill Rd where she is quickly run off a curve on the hill by a mysteriously maniacal driver. Rose is killed instantly, becoming a roadside ghost, though it takes her years to piece together what happened to her and why. Turns out her murderer is actor Bobby Cross. Cross, scared to see his looks or career fade, makes a deal to stay forever young and handsome at the price of taking the souls of young, innocent, virginal girls. Cross is unique in that he's not dead but he can move between both realms of the living and the dead. Which also means Rose has to be twice as alert keeping all her charges on both sides safe. Once Rose learns how her death came about, she spends decades keeping the innocent away from Bobby while also guiding other souls onto their next otherworldly destination. But Bobby just will not let up, because he never actually got Rose's soul... and time has only made him more determined to get what he feels he's due, at whatever cost. (Sidenote: certain elements of Part 3, "Scary Stories" of this novel reminded me of Joe Hill's NOS4A2 -- aaand I also just realized I never wrote up my review for that one lol, stayed tuned for thoughts on that one!)
Now that sounds kind of dark, I know, but one of the things I loved best about this novel is how much comedy is worked into the dialogue and characterizations! The snarky, sarcastic, FML moments just made the pages fly for me. And yet I didn't really want to leave this world! Rose reminded me a lot of George from the show Dead Like Me (one of my all-time faves), so if you're a fan of that show, I highly recommend checking this story out. There's also Rose's fun bestie, the bean sidhe (aka banshee of Irish lore) Emma, who is the perfect friend combo of being there for Rose when needed, but also not taking Rose's crap when she's in a mood.
One thing fellow paranormal fans are bound to eat up is all the ghost lore -- legends, stories, science of the paranormal -- that McGuire lightly threads throughout the storyline, giving the Otherworld a sense of realness, something that I find is tricky to do with finesse with a lot of paranormal stories. Most of the time I find the story fun but there is that sense of this is all fantasy, this could never exist. With McGuire's writing I felt more like I could totally see something like this existing on the other side! I also like McGuire's own unique elements she conjures up -- like the way Rose can sense the presence of someone on the edge of crossing over because she smells ashes mixed with some other scent that tells her what kind of death she's approaching and if the person can be pulled back and saved, or if they are too far gone and she has to prepare them for their next journey.
It took a lot of years and a lot of walking to work my way deep enough to come back into the light, and maybe that's the biggest secret that the ghostside has to offer; that if you work long enough to reach the darkness, you're almost inevitably going to find your way to the light. They're the same thing, viewed from two different directions, and they can both get you lost, and they can both bring you home.
An extra bonus for readers -- at the back of the book McGuire also includes a playlist of songs she was inspired by while writing this novel, something you can play if you're into the whole atmospheric reading thing. :-) I gotta admit, I was a little surprised to find "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan & Dean didn't make the list. After a few chapters, that's what immediately popped into my head, but she still has a great mix to check out.
Also, if you really enjoy McGuire's writing style here, she has a whole slew of books in her October Daye urban fantasy series (which I'd like to check out sometime, but there are a lot so it may take me a bit to get around to them lol). She also has books published under the name Mira Grant, most notably the Newsflesh series.