The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove
by Marta Acosta
[To read a free copy, click on the title]
"ON THE NIGHT that I die, the storm raging outside is not as fierce as my stepfather raging inside.
"His hand is so sweaty that I am able to pull out of his grip. I run through the kitchen, past my mother’s body. My foot slides in the pool of scarlet blood on the cracked yellow linoleum floor. I wrench open the back door and run outside."
This is how The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove begins. Jane Williams has seen her mother murdered then she too was shot by her stepfather. Running into the woods Jane feels the gentle touch of tree branches pulling her to safety. She wants to stay there forever, but this is not the time. In the hospital trauma room her heart restarts and she's back in the real world.
Now orphaned she enters into the difficult world of the state foster system. Her tough spirit and the friendship of others help her to to put her mind in her work and when she does she sees herself progress and get the excellent grades she never thought possible. This becomes a source of pride and satisfaction, something unattainable in the group home she's been assigned to. Eventually she comes to the attention of the headmistress of Birch Grove Academy and is offered a full scholarship at this elite school. A terrific opportunity, or so it seems, but is it too good to be true? Not at first anyway. She makes friends with a fun group of girls and Mrs Monroe, who runs the school, invites her to almost be a part of the family. Jane, who believes herself to be as plain as her name, finds younger son Lucky Monroe very attractive. In return he is attentive to her at times, and at others practically ignores her. His older brother has a wild side but knows how to be a true friend.
On most levels things look good for Jane, but there is something sinister about the atmosphere at Birch Grove, and Jane becomes the target of someone or something that wants her gone.
What is so appealing about Jane is her strength in the midst of terrible hardship. She learns that persistence pays. Despite the sinister undercurrent Jane finds a place where she can belong and can overcome whatever life throws her way. Although it isn't initially apparent the vampire theme does play a part in this story. As Marta says, "Fans of the Casa Dracula series will notice a few similarities, as well as major differences."
This is the kind of book I wish I could have read when I was a teen. Jane is an inspiration to any young girl who doesn't fit in or underestimates her own strengths. Shadow Girl is a lovely, spiritual, uplifting story.