Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead.
Sparrow Hill Road has a unique format, in that it is more of a collection of shorts with most of the same characters and an overall theme than it is a linear book. This is mostly, I think, because the book started out as a series of shorts. However, I think the format is also a suggestion of the way a ghost might experience time. Namely, in strung together bursts of interaction with the living or their fellow dead. Sometimes convenience and storytelling work together, and it’s lovely when they do.
There is an over-arching plot, however. Rose Marshall died in 1952 due to a car crash on the way to her high school prom, a crash that was instigated by a man named Bobby Cross. Bobby sold his soul to live forever and must use the souls of the dying to fuel his existence. Rose is the soul that got away, and she’s been doing her best to thwart him ever since, sometimes directly and other times indirectly. These are her stories, and the stories of the souls she’s tried to save.
I’m pleased to see on Goodreads that this book is listed as Ghost Stories #1. I was originally a bit crestfallen at the book’s ending, but knowing there is supposed to be more makes me feel a lot better about things. (Please, DAW, don’t tease us! We need more Rose.) ((And readers, please buy this book! Sales = Life in the world of publishing, and I need Rose to live. Figuratively speaking.))
Sparrow Hill Road is a book that serves up ghost stories on a heaping slice of Americana. It is a testament to, and a warning of, the American highway system, and all the miles of road and the strangeness that has grown up around them. When I’m driving sometimes at night, I wonder if a dark road after dusk is what Purgatory is. I wonder if I would know if I can crossed over from the living into the world of the dead. Seanan McGuire has taken that spinal chill and extended it into a full body shiver of a ghost story. This book is an apt spiritual successor to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. (Spiritual. See what I did there?)
I wish McGuire’s writing got as many accolades as her work under the name Mira Grant does. It is justly deserved, regardless of which name is on the book. Sadly, I think it’s the genre that doesn’t get any respect. All I can say is — I pity the people who aren’t giving McGuire just as much attention as Grant*. The work is outstanding, regardless of subject matter or hot pink covers (as seen on Discount Armageddon, probably my favorite of the McGuire canon.)
*Full disclosure: I’ve only read part of one book from the Mira Grant list, and that book (Parasite) wigged me out to the point where I put it down and have yet to work up the courage to go back to it.