Emily Stewart is the girl who claims to stand between the living and the dead. During the quiet summer of 1925, she and her brother, Michael, are thirteen-year-old twins-privileged, precocious, wandering aimlessly around their family's estate. One day, Emily discovers that she can secretly crack her ankle in such a way that a sound appears to burst through the stillness of midair. Emily and Michael gather the neighborhood children to fool them with these "spirit knockings." Soon, however, this game of contacting the dead creeps into a world of adults still reeling from World War I. When the twins find themselves dabbling in the uncertain territory of human grief and family secrets, everything spins wildly out of control.
Loosely inspired by the true story of the Fox sisters (whose actions kickstarted the 19th century Spiritualism Movement), author Paul Elwork mixes things up a bit by telling a similar story but from a brother / sister perspective. At the novel's start, in the year 1925, Emily and Michael are thirteen year old twins living on the family's East Coast estate of Ravenwood. After losing their father in World War 1, the children are often left to find their own ways to keep themselves occupied throughout a day.
"Your father," her mother said, "was always interested in the things beneath things."
Emily nodded at this. "Isn't everyone?"
"Not as much as you might think."
Michael is described as a bookish loner who "before his 10th birthday had discovered that he could not tolerate most people well," while sister Emily is creative, curious, and inventive. Emily becomes captivated by the family story of Great Aunt Regina, who died in the late 1800s (only 16 years old) when she had a fall near the estate's riverbank. She's now said to haunt Ravenwood. Around this time of Emily's budding interest in the paranormal, she also discovers a trick where she can make her ankle crack on command. This becomes the basis for Emily and Michael's "spirit knocking" gatherings, initially held just the neighborhood kids but quickly catches on with the local adults as well.
Michael becomes the team's hype man, crafting ghost stories inspired by all his reading. When they get into doing readings for the towsfolk, the twins claim to use the ghost of Great Aunt Regina as their spirit guide. Once adults mourning loved ones lost to WW1 start seeking out the twins for solace, what starts as a game soon turns to something quite a bit more serious.
Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who became quite a prominent follower of Spiritualism, gets a brief mention in this book. In regards to the paranormal theme, there is nothing particularly spooky or scary here, which is largely why my reading experience was ultimately somewhat disappointing. While there is a definite poetic flair to Elwork's writing style, the overall tone just had steady note of sadness throughout the whole plot.