Ethan Wate lives in the small, very Southern (definitely capital S "southern") town of Gatlin, South Carolina. He can't wait to leave. His mother died, his father is now a recluse confined to writing in his study all day in his pajamas, and the town is very insular, where everyone knows everyone else and doesn't want anyone to be different. The one person who is different is Old Man Ravenswood who owns the oldest plantation house in town and who never leaves his house. When his neice, Lena Duchannes, arrives in town, things start changing. And the people of Gatlin don't like change. Lena is pretty much the opposite of the very Southern and superficial girls who are popular cheerleaders at Gatlin HS. They resent her and mock her, and Ethan's defense of Lena only makes things worse. When the ring-leader of these girls, Emily, keeps pushing Lena one day in English class, the classroom window suddenly breaks. This is a pivotal moment when everyone at Gatlin decides Lena is not just different but dangerous, and by befriending her, Ethan is making a conscious decision to break with all of his other friends and neighbors in Gatlin (except his great best friend, Link). As Ethan spends more time with Lena, he comes to understand how and why the window broke, why Old Man Ravenswood is such a recluse, why Lena is marking her hand with numbers (counting down each day), how his housekeeper/caretaker is involved with Ravenswood, why the town librarian stays there when she could be in a bigger city, and many other historical secrets of the town that he never even suspected. Not to mention why he's been dreaming of Lena even before she arrived.
The setting was really well depicted and incorporated into the plot. Although I love my hip urban faery tales (Marr, Clare, etc.), I like this change of p(l)ace. The setting melds well with the mystical elements of the plot and makes it even more believable. It also makes this book different from all those urban faery tales, while at the same time, I think it will probably appeal to a lot of the same readers. There were quite a few characters, but they were all very well-developed. I didn't predict the end, but it seemed like an appropriate end, not contrived to be "something you didn't see coming." Naturally, a sequel appears imminent. The only aspects I didn't completely love were with some of the ending, but I will wait until it comes out to discuss that (if I can even remember by then). And the superficiality of the "popular girls" made for good conflict and humor, but they were definitely stereotypes and one-dimensional. They weren't the focus, though, so it's forgivable/understandable. I did love the depiction of their shirts (you'll understand when you read it).
I was intrigued by the title, but I have to say its meaning was nothing at all that I suspected. Now that I understand its meaning, I like the meaning but I am not completely sure how I feel about it for the title of this book. I also love the cover, but I had it on my cart of ARCs I've been sharing with students and no one took it the entire two weeks it was there. So what do I know?
* Margie looks like E. Lockhart to me in the photo on their website.