Best of 2014: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

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I know, I know, I’m horribly late on finishing my best books of 2014 list. But I promised you 10, and I’m giving you 10—better late than never, right? Can’t even blame vacation this time; I’ve just been busy getting sick (ugh) and working on rewrites for The Demon Within (yay!) since I got back. But I’m sitting down, putting my nose to the grindstone, and finishing the list. But the nice thing about books is that they never go out of date, and you don’t have to worry about them leaving the movie theaters or anything like that. So even if I’m a little late, these books aren’t.

So my next pick for the top 10 books of 2014 is Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire.

The book description:

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.

Not until now.

Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is one of my current favorites in urban fantasy. It keeps getting better and better, and it’s definitely worth a read if you haven’t done so already. I chose to focus on this book, though, because a) if you haven’t read the October Daye books already, jumping in at The Winter Long—the 8th book in the series, which was released in 2014—is just going to confuse the crap out of you, and b) Sparrow Hill Road is just so different from anything else she’s written. To tell you the truth, it’s different than anything else I’ve ever read.

I also just really, really dig ghost stories.

Sparrow Hill Road follows Rose Marshall through her afterlife as a road ghost, funneling the spirits of those who die in auto accidents into the afterlife. As the book was originally a set of short stories, the novel has an ambling, non-linear quality to it. Some readers might not like this, but I did; it seemed to fit Rose’s perception of the world as a ghost. The stories are tied together by Rose’s quest to evade Bobby Cross, the man who killed her in 1952 and who continues to chase her spirit long into her afterlife.

I was struck by the Americanness of the novel. America has always been a nation of cars and highways, and the entire novel revolves around that. McGuire has taken our America’s relative lack of history, our culture of fast food and fast cars and yearning to escape, and turned into a mythology. It’s incredibly well done, and surprisingly creepy.

It is also, at times, an achingly sad story. As Rose remains perpetually 16, doomed to wander the ghost roads forever, the world and the people she left behind slowly die. It’s always 1952 for Rose, but the living go on without her. I think that’s one of the appeals of ghost stories for me: this idea of always being on the outside looking in, longingly, at the world of the living. Rose is sometimes called upon to escort the people she was closest to in life to their afterlives. It’s one of these moments that provide the saddest—and the best—scene in the story.

There are moments of joy and moments of pain and moments of excitement in Rose’s afterlife, and all are told in such beautiful, precise detail that you feel them along with Rose. Sparrow Hill Road is not your usual fast-paced, kick-butt urban fantasy, but for those of you who are looking for a great ghost story, or for those of you who are looking for something different than the norm, it’s definitely worth the read. This is a stand-alone novel, but I hope McGuire revisits Rose and her friends at the Last Chance Diner; there are more stories left to tell here.

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