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Trace: 07/27/19


Trace by Pat Cummings opens with the memory of near death by drowning. Theodore "Trace" Carter was the only survivor after the car he and his parents were in drove off a bridge. He's now living with his aunt in New York. He's not sleeping well and he's having trouble adjusting because he's haunted by the memory of the water that drowned his parents.

In history class Trace is in a group to research and present on 1860. Each group of three or four students decides what needs to be reported on. Trace's group ends up giving him the Draft Riots.

Until the time that Trace arrives at the library to work with his group the book is realistic, contemporary middle grade fiction. Since they were meeting at the famous branch, the one with the lions and the one that the Ghostbusters meet the librarian ghost in the basement, I jokingly expected Trace to meet a ghost.

And then he does. And his life isn't the same after that. For a child who can't move on from his parents' deaths and his own near death experience, it might seem that meeting a ghost would be a bad thing. It isn't. It's a chance to learn more about his heritage and the history of the city.

My only complaint is that in this novel to make the ghost's presence in the library make narrative sense, the author invents an orphanage. The site, though, is well known for having been built on a defunct reservoir (something covered both by the library's website as well as being a major plot point in Beneath by Roland Smith. Had I not read Smith's novel, I wouldn't know about the reservoir (having verified the information on the library's site).

All said, I agree that the most iconic branch makes narrative sense even if the history needs to be fudged. It has a long history of being used as a magical spot or a haunted spot.

Chase's story also fits into the road narrative spectrum. Trace is a literal orphan but also spends most of his time alone, is an orphan traveler (FF). As he is working to help a ghost as well as discover the ghost's identity and history, the destination is uhoria (CC). As he's in New York and is primarily walking, his route is the Blue Highway (33), which also includes city/town streets. Put all together, this is the tale of an orphan traveling to uhoria via the Blue Highway.

Five stars

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Friday, August 02, 2019 at 00:05:38

Pat Cummings

Thanks enormously for taking the time to read and review Trace.

As I mentioned in the Acknowledgements, The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned down in 1863 by an angry mob during the Draft Riots. That did happen. Having read misinformation on the internet (!! it DOES happen) I began the book with the wrong impression that the orphanage had been on the site of the library. After my research revealed that the site was actually two blocks to the north, I decided to stick with the 42nd street location, taking liberties in order to make the narrative more dramatic. The bank that sits at 44th Street and 5th Ave. seemed like a less gripping, albeit accurate, site. I let the ghost drift a couple of blocks downtown to haunt a more interesting place. But the orphanage WAS burned and, by several accounts, one girl was killed. I took liberties because this was fiction...but I tried to clarify what was fact and what was fictionalized in the Acknowledgements.

Thanks again for the review. Your list of books is amazing!

Comment #2: Thursday, August 01, 2019 at 21:17:00


Thank you for your response. I hope I didn't give the impression that I wasn't recommending the book or that I was taking points off because you took liberties. I enjoyed the book from start to finish. I probably shouldn't have mentioned the liberties you took. I have been recommending Trace to friends, family, and kids I work with since I finished it. It's a great book.

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