Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Sang Spell. Atheneum, 1998. ISBN 0-689-82007-0. $16.00. 176 pp. A 6+ FI Reviewed by Gabi Kupitz “On a night even demons howl for their mothers, Josh stood on the edge of the highway, thumbing a ride.” And so starts Josh's journey. After his mother's recent fatal car crash, Josh is an orphan, just five months shy of getting his driver's license. Bowing out of a backpacking trip with a friend along the Appalachian Trail planned for the first three weeks of August and not due at Aunt Carol's Dallas home until the twenty-fourth of that month, Josh is determined to experience some freedom by hitchhiking to Texas. The driver who gives Brian a ride beats him, takes off with his money, and leaves him in the area of Sang Hollow-wherever that is. Josh is rescued by a woman driving a horse-drawn wagon. Eventually, he finds that he is somewhere in the Appalachians in a community of Melungeons who harvest the valuable ginseng, called “sang” by the locals. The village of Canara is the Melungeons' answer for the safety and peace they have always sought, but for Josh it is a prison from which there is no escape. Even as he tries to leave, he finds himself going in circles and always ending back in a place where it seems as if time stands still. Finally, Josh has the opportunity to thwart a murder plan hatched by a fellow “prisoner.” In putting the interests of the villagers before his own, Josh finds that his prison has been one of his own making. A fantasy, Sang Spell incorporates elements of historical and realistic fiction to weave a suspenseful story of those who have sought and attained peace juxtaposed with Josh, who is still trying to find inner peace and his place in the physical world. A non-lurid skinny-dipping scene and the graphic details of latrine-building are two of the many episodes in which Josh travels outside of his previously sheltered and ordered life.
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