The Plot: Amy Goodnight’s summer job is taking care of her aunt’s Texas ranch while her hard working aunt goes on a vacation to China. Along with her older sister, Phin, they’re taking care of the dogs, the goats, and the plants that make up Aunt Hyacinth’s herb farm and organic bath products. What Amy didn’t plan on was the destructive neighborhood ghost. Lucky for her, the Goodnights know more than a little about the supernatural. Amy may try to present a typical place to the world, but the truth she hides yet cannot deny is the Goodnight family is a family of witches. Too bad the very cute next-door-neighbor cowboy doesn’t believe in ghosts or witches and just want the trouble-making Goodnights to stay out of his way and off his land.
The Good: In my review of Clement-Moore’s The Splendor Falls, I compared it to books by Barbara Michaels: “You know all those Barbara Michaels books you go looking for? Young girl, old family home, dueling love interests, with the three s’s: setting, suspense, supernatural? And when they’re done, you wonder what to read next?” Texas Gothic shows that Clement-Moore is this generation’s Barbara Michaels, and I guess it’s more accurate to say that those teen readers who like these books should be shown the Michaels books rather than vice versa. It is 2011, after all. (For the record, both Leila at Bookshelves of Doom and Vicky Smith at Kirkus make the same comparison).
Let’s see if Texas Gothic contains the elements I listed in the review for The Splendor Falls.
“Young girl” — Amy Goodnight, just graduated high school and on her way to college. For good measure, there is her older sister, Phin, who takes a very scientific approach to her own witchcraft studies. Two young girls! And then there is cousin Daisy, who — well. Let me just say, if you’re a fan of NCIS, you’ll love Daisy.
“Old family home” — Aunt Hyacinth’s farmhouse is a hundred years old. Technically, it’s not Amy’s family home, but I think this counts.
“Dueling love interests” — I wrote this meaning two possible love interests for the main character, and that isn’t present here. However, from first meeting, cute cowboy Ben McCulloch and Amy are dueling. He is annoyed that rumors of ghosts are interfering with his management of the family ranch, a responsibility he took on after his father died. He blames Aunt Hyacinth for the rumors, and fights Amy and her family tooth and nail. Just as Amy needs to convince herself to embrace her witch side, so, too, does Ben need to be convinced that ghosts and witches are real. “They fight endlessly but like each other” is really hard to pull off, because if people are fighting, how can they get to the point of liking each other? The cause for the fighting makes sense — Ben feels his family and home are threatened by made up stories, Amy doesn’t like her family mocked. As time goes by, the cause for fighting shifts. Ben still doesn’t believe in ghosts, so when he sees Amy putting herself in danger he gets angry at her foolishness. Amy gets angry right back at his failure to trust and respect her when it comes to the supernatural. As for the like — well. Did I mention that they first meet when Amy is in her underwear? (It covers more than a bathing suit, but still). Amy admires Ben’s sense of responsibility that led him to drop out of college to take care of the family business — plus, he’s cute. Ben admires Amy’s dedication to her own family.
“Setting” — Texas! Texas Gothic is full of details that made this Jersey Girl believe she was experiencing those wide-open spaces and the herb farm. Excavations to build a bridge reveal a body, long dead, and so a group from the University come out to conduct a dig. Ben is not thrilled with that — especially when more bodies turn up. (Not to give away any spoilers, but the bodies are of European descent).
“Suspense” — first is the ghost, of course. Is there a ghost? What does the ghost want? There have been rumors of a ghost — the “Mad Monk” — for years, including the Mad Monk being responsible for accidents that seriously hurt people. Amy, Phin, and members of the local University’s forensic team try to determine whether the bones have anything to do with the ghost. Clement-Moore does a great job of weaving together two different suspense threads — the ghost as well as the story of the ghost. Well versed in tv and media, the crew quickly realize that stories of ghosts could be used and manipulated by people to hide other activities, or just to cause trouble.
“Supernatural” — ghosts and witches are real! And, from the start, Amy knows it. She feels her job in the family is to protect her family from outsiders who wouldn’t understand, including stopping her older sister from honestly sharing her knowledge and opinion with those who don’t believe in ghosts and witches. Oh, remember Aunt Hyacinth’s herb farm and organic bath products? Spells! You can literally wash that man right out of your hair. Amy’s combination of familiarity and distance with the supernatural is a great way to introduce the reader to the world of witchcraft in Texas Gothic.
I loved Amy and her family. Amy’s desire to protect/deny her heritage stems from an incident when, as a child, she and her sister went “ghost hunting” for a La Llorona that ended with the two girls almost drowned and their furious father threatening to take them from their mother. Amy reacted by boxing up all her ghost books and keeping witchcraft at arms length; while it’s not explicitly said, Phin’s reaction is to view witchcraft as one big science project, matter of chemistry, physics, tests, cause and rection. I would love to see Texas Gothic the start of a series of related books, with Amy, Phin, Daisy and other Goodnight women solving more supernatural mysteries.