I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.Sanctuary by Jennifer McKissack
Published by Scholastic on September 29, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Gothic
After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old French-Gothic mansion that crowns a remote island off the coast of Maine. Cecilia is both drawn to and repulsed by Sanctuary. The scent of the ocean intoxicates her, but she's also haunted by the ghosts of her past--of her father who died at Sanctuary five years ago, and of her mother who was committed soon after. The memories leave Cecilia feeling shaken, desperate to run away and forget her terrible family history. But then a mysterious guest arrives at Sanctuary: Eli Bauer, a professor sent to examine Sanctuary's library. Cecilia is intrigued by this strange young man who seems so interested in her -- even more interested in her than in the books he is meant to be studying. Who is he and what does he want? Can Cecilia possibly trust her growing feelings for him? And can he help her make peace with her haunted, tragic past?
Cecelia’s return to Sanctuary is not a happy one. Her uncle, a truly terrible person, forces her back by withholding school tuition and Cecelia finds herself at the mercy of his increasingly insane whims and, it seems, the spirits that linger on the Island. It is clear that since the deaths of her sister, grandmother, and aunt, Sanctuary is no longer a place of comfort. She returns to find her uncle remarried and her library being picked apart by a visiting professor. Integrated into the story of Cecelia’s return is the story of her ancestor, Amoret, who still has a hold on the island, it seems. Her tragic story is revealed through diaries and just a hint of a ghost story. I loved the connection that seemed to exist through all of the female characters, both living and dead. They were all connected in spirit, in a way, and it added to the spooky feel of the book. Cecelia questions her own sanity as her mother’s supposed mental instability is thrown in her face at every turn. The question of whether Cecelia, too, suffers from mental illness, or if their long-ago ancestor still curses the island, hangs over everyone’s head. Cecilia’s family history is wrapped up in the painful and dramatic deportation of the Acadians from Novia Scotia in the 1750s and 60s. (As a point of reference, many of the Acadians went to Louisiana and developed the culture we now know as Cajun.) As Cecelia learns more about her ancestor’s experiences as she was being forced to leave her home, it seems to parallel the feelings that Cecelia has about Sanctuary. A place where she once felt safe, or at least was familiar with, is being ripped away from her and she is set emotionally and physically adrift.
As with all Gothic novels, the setting is key. The isolated island off of Maine was the perfect setting. The house itself plays a huge role in creating atmosphere and as Cecelia feels less and less safe there, the house becomes a very menacing character. It echos the feelings that Cecelia has and since all Gothic novels involve a house that acts as both a setting and a character, it was the perfect illustration of the danger and mystery surrounding Aunt Laura and their ancestor, Amoret. There were also some excellent plot twists that kept me on my toes. The touch of romance in the story balanced an otherwise dark book, and while the ending couldn’t be called happy, it wasn’t gloomy, either. It managed to find that perfect balance that gave hope without erasing the mystery of everything that happened before it. Sanctuary was very entertaining and interesting, with a fabulous setting and a well-paced mystery. If you love Gothic novels, this should definitely be on your reading list.