”Cassy, you’re a really good student. You have a lot of potential to do really great things. Just don’t get distracted, okay?” he said in a sturdy voice.
”What do ya mean, distracted?”
“I think you know exactly what I’m referring to,” he insisted, while staring over my shoulder at Amber. She didn’t seem to notice because she was too busy playing with her cell phone.
“I’ll be okay,” I said.
“I’m sure you will, Cassy, but just remember that those who work harder in life get rewarded a lot more than those who don‘t.”
“Huh?” He confused me. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“What I’m trying to say is that persistence is effort and I know you’ll go far if you don’t let certain influences get in your way,” he said, not losing sight of Amber.
“Thanks, Professor Stone, but everything’s gonna be fine.” I smiled as I tried to reassure him.
“It’s your future. Don’t let anyone interfere with that.”
“Yeah. Sure. See ya Thursday.”
Although I’m well past the expiry date and my memory is admittedly not what it once was, I’m reliably assured that life as a late teenager can be a confusing time.
This is certainly the case for Cassandra Blakemore (known to everyone as Cassy) – the central character in Sheila Renee Parker’s debut novel, The Spirit Within. When we first meet Cassy, she struggling to cope with various aspects of everyday life in the town of Fairview, Texas; notably her schooling and the frustrating qualities of a best friend called Amber, (mentioned in the above quote), who believes that life should be less about taking it seriously and more about parties, boys and more parties. On top of this, Cassy also has to cope with growing up with the loss of both parents, a well-meaning, but interfering, Uncle called Mitch and coping with her ‘gem’ of a boyfriend, Raleigh Nichols, who likes to drink…and then drink plenty more.
While this would be considered enough for any young soul to deal with, new and odder challenges begin to materialise, when Cassy begins to experience unusual sensations of a paranormal nature which begin to impinge upon her life. When these mysterious happenings put a strain upon her relationship, Cassy is faced with a stack of unwanted questions and some important decisions that have to be faced up to.
The story is told in a first person narrative, which adds considerable weight to the protagonist in this novel. While there is a lot of dialogue throughout the book, the author makes sure to keep events moving along nicely. To aid this, the chapters are each of a reasonable length – each beginning with a simple description which sets the forthcoming scene. This all ensures that the reader is kept firmly attached to the plot as it moves along and allows for good rhythm and pace. The introduction of the ‘weirder stuff’ is gradually introduced and keeps the reader intrigued by what direction(s) the book is going to be travelling in.
This is a key issue with the The Spirit Within as the balancing, juggling act that is required to maintain the central themes associated with growing up, dealing with relationship problems and terrifying paranormal vibrations is a writing challenge that’s certainly not on the easy scale of difficulty. Sheila Renee Parker manages to combine these foundation issues well, adopting a solid writing style which allows the reader to relax into the book and just go along with the literary ride, meaning that when the surprises do occur the reader is not left staring at the page and wondering what just occurred. We know the characters well, because the author has put a lot of work into making them as three-dimensional as possible.
This is certainly a book that younger readers in their tens and twenties would enjoy, but also one that appeals to anyone who relishes tales associated with the paranormal. It’s also clear that the author has done her research into these topics, which furthermore adds a sense of realism to the plot, with forays into ESP, psychokinesis, premonition and more.
A perfect book for the beach, in what’s left of our summer.