Ghosts of Spiritwood, The

18 July 2023

The Ghosts of Spiritwood
by Martine Noël-Maw
Published by Shadowpaw Press Reprise
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$17.99 ISBN 9781989398623

I’ve always loved a good ghost story, and Saskatchewan writer Martine Noël-Maw gives us ghost stories inside a ghost story in her YA novel The Ghosts of Spiritwood. First published in 2010 in French, the book’s now available in English thanks to Shadowpaw Press Reprise, and I’m so pleased. The novel was inspired by Grade 8 French Immersion students at Elsie Mironuck School in Regina, where Noël-Maw conducted six writing workshops.

The author’s work’s been recognized with two Saskatchewan Book Awards, and she clearly knows how to write well, beginning with this novel’s opening paragraph:

“I still have nightmares about the events that took place in that abandoned country school near Spiritwood. I’d seen disembodied spirits before but never like those.”

That’s a grabber. We immediately learn that our First Person narrator is seventeen-year-old Ethan, the son of a Regina psychologist. Ethan and his classmates were to go camping in Spiritwood where they’d “watch the northern lights,” but rather than taking the bus with the others, Ethan and twins John and Reggie, plus Ethan’s crush Alex(andra) and whiny Britney had to leave the city late and were driving up in Ethan’s “recently-inherited” car. “It was my mom’s old car, a twelve-year-old four-door Corolla,” he writes.

The group made the five-hour trip to Spiritwood and beyond, but when a deer crossed before them and their car unceremoniously flipped (no injuries), the teens began walking and more bad news struck: a prairie thunderstorm broke around them, and true-to-life: no cell coverage. “̒̒We have to find shelter,’” [Ethan] said. “̒Or at least get off the road if we don’t want to get hit by lightning.’”

They take shelter in an abandoned country school near Spiritwood, and shortly after the oft-quarrelling fivesome begin sharing ghost stories, ie: Alex’s tale about her grandfather, who “‘came to say goodbye … the night he died,’” and Ethan’s story: “‘Shortly after [Granny’s] passing, I began seeing a shadow on my bedroom wall at the foot of my bed.’” This “shadow” appeared to him for the next ten years.

But those ghosts are not the ghosts of the book’s title. When the northern lights appear “like gigantic sails hanging in the deep blackness,” Ethan whistles (he found a special whistle for this purpose at the Wanuskewin gift shop) and sets Aurora Borealis dancing. Then: all hell breaks loose. I suggest reading this fast-paced, dialogue-rich story yourself to discover who these kids uncovered in the schoolhouse basement that night.

Despite the seriousness of the plot, the text is underscored with adolescent humour and sparring. Likeable Ethan’s strong, credible voice carries the story. There’s an interesting conversation re: perception, prayer, and the power of the mind, and I appreciated how the narrator often reflected on the incredulity of his own experience, ie: “I can’t believe I’m telling a story like this.” This book’s spooky … in all the best ways.


No Comments

Comments are closed.