A 16-year-old violinist descends into a haunted summer of love and longing in The Ghosts of Rose Hill, a lush and fantastical modern folktale in verse from R.M. Romero (The Dollmaker of Kraków).
After a disappointing academic year, Ilana Lopez, a child of Cuban and Czech refugees, is sent from her home in Miami Beach to Prague to spend the summer with an aunt. Ilana is supposed to abandon violin and refocus on her studies but reclaims a forgotten Jewish cemetery instead. There she finds a ghost, Benjamin, "with eyes the blue of the sea," who has fallen victim to a soul-consuming river spirit named Wassermann. The vodník wants to use Ilana as bait for more young souls. Wassermann lures Ilana with a gift of music that gnaws at her and leaves her "collapsing inward, a black hole of a girl" filled only by the violin and her love of Benjamin. As the cravings consume her, Ilana realizes that, to save what she loves, she must sacrifice it.
Romero delivers an original and anguished blend of music, magic and Judaic traditions. Her fluid verse unspools over four bittersweet, lyrical "movements" with perspective-shifting interludes as the 50 quick chapters accelerate to the plot's crescendo. While the setting is richly descriptive of Prague's history, Ilana's own heritage as a child of refugees and the diaspora beautifully informs the story. Teen music aficionados should appreciate musical hints throughout, including the vodník playing from the tragic love story of Madame Butterfly during his first appearance. Romero's sophomore title is a wistful and deeply symbolic tale of feeling seen and finding powerful connections to the past. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf