Lilacs, camphor, pine--often a particular aroma links to a time or place. In Erica Bauermeister's (The School of Essential Ingredients, The Lost Art of Mixing) fourth novel, scent is the dominant force in the isolated island cabin a girl shares with her father. As Emmeline narrates The Scent Keeper, a mysterious coming-of-age story, she recalls "the smell of wood smoke and pine pitch in my father's beard as he reads to me at night."
Emmeline and Papa enjoy a simple life, harvesting provisions from the forest and cove. Papa doesn't explain the "mermaid"-delivered box of extras that arrives monthly, or his wall of drawers and their tiny bottles of papers that hold specific fragrances. While Papa shares books and stories, he never explains exactly how the scent papers work. A fateful winter's day at the cove leaves Emmeline alone, thrust into an unfamiliar world. A loving older couple embraces her and, with the courage and curiosity her father taught her, she creates a niche, attends school and meets Fisher, whose friendship expands into love. At its midpoint, the novel makes an abrupt shift when Emmeline's computer research reveals her parents' past, as co-owners of a revolutionary fragrance-creation machine, and her mother's identity.
Determined to find Fisher, who has fled his father's abuse, and to confront her mother, Emmeline bravely leaves the island for the city, seeking truth, love and family. Woven through her life's journey is a multi-layered story of fragrance and its evocative power, as strong and tenacious as this sensuous novel's plucky heroine. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco