Spirit Legacy is an engaging Young Adult paranormal/thriller novel that follows a sharp-witted young woman with, as she puts it, “isolationist tendencies,” whose discovery of her psychic talents is only the beginning of her singular coming-of-age journey.
Jess Ballard knows how to survive—she has to, having spent her life on the move with her alcoholic mother, whose personal demons kept them running. When Elizabeth Ballard dies in a fall, Jess heads to Boston to attend St. Matthew’s College, and to shelter in the care of her aunt Karen. All of Jess’s life, Elizabeth had been estranged from her family, including her twin sister, without explanation. Karen proves to be equally elusive, and a visit to Jess’s grandfather in a nursing home leaves the 17-year-old even more uneasy about her family’s history.
For a while, that uneasiness takes a back seat to the busy distractions of college life. Her Goth style and whip-smart attitude serve her well: she brooks no nonsense from rivals nor admirers and is protective of her obsessively neat roommate, Tia. In Jess, Holmes has given us a charismatic character whose dialogue and observations are perceptive and imaginative—Jess is an excellent model for how to value your self-worth and embrace your differences.
She’s also human. Torturous nightmares, in which voices call out to her, plague her sleep, making it difficult to keep up with her coursework. Seeking refuge and quiet study time one night in the library, Jess meets an attractive but enigmatic young man. Mentioning his name to a professor the next day brings surprising consequences and a psychiatric referral—because Evan, the young man, happens to be dead. But taking ghostly form doesn’t keep him from writing a plaintive message in her textbook: “Help me. Find Hannah.”
Jess and Tia search in vain for the mysterious Hannah. Another visitation, this time from a little boy who’d died the previous night, impels Jess to enlist the help of the college’s professor of parapsychology, David Pierce. With his assistants, they conduct a paranormal investigation of the library, which begins like an entertaining episode of “Ghost Hunters” before taking a terrifying turn when Jess, alone in the bathroom, is accosted by a ghost, with many more waiting to pass through her.
When she recovers, Jess learns about the Durupinen, an ancient line of human portals through which restless spirits need to pass in order to reach the other side. With much difficulty, she draws the truth of her family history out of her aunt Karen.
E.E. Holmes’ tale starts out strong and just keeps getting stronger, revealing a storyline that’s believable in large part to its well-drawn characters, its accurate depiction of college life, and the familial compassion that surfaces along with the long-held secrets.
Spirit Legacy is the first book in The Gateway Trilogy by E.E. Holmes. Spirit Legacy won a Dante Rossetti Award for Young Adult Fiction 2013, First Place, Thriller Category.