“Nothing was right in my family, and I dreaded the day my sins were gonna catch up with me, but the bayou made me feel like the world was full of beauty and possibilities. Like someday, somehow, just maybe, I could be the girl I wanted to be.” (p. 124)
Livie Mouton’s mother has the “sleeping sickness”. After an accident on the bayou that Livie believes is her fault, her mother is now lying in a coma in their front room at home. Everyone else seems to know how to help Mama, how to believe that with their love and care she will get better. But Livie is so burdened with guilt over the accident that she can’t even go near her mother. Livie has always felt like an outcast in her own family, unable to be helpful and capable like her older sister Faye, or sweet and charming like her baby sister, Crickett. Since the accident, Livie has felt more out of place than ever.
Livie decides to visit a traiteur (healer), with the hopes that she will be able to help where the doctors have failed. Miz Allemond instructs Livie to make a healing string, that with faith and prayer, is sure to work. She must tie nine items that are special to her mother onto the nine knots and then tie the whole string around her mother’s ankle. Then she must find nine good memories. This worries Livie, as she’s spent most of her 12 years at odds with Mama, the two never able to see eye-to eye. Once the string falls off, Mama should be healed.
The Healing Spell is wonderfully atmospheric and Little’s vivid descriptions of life on the Louisiana bayou are fantastic. I could feel the sticky air, smell the hyacinths, hear the buzz of the mosquitoes. Livie’s intensely fragile emotional state was palpable throughout the story. I could relate to her fear of her mother lying motionless on the hospital bed, of the way she felt as though she didn’t understand how to help when everyone else just seemed to know what to do. Despite a few instances where the author told rather than showed to move through the action, I found The Healing Spell to be a thoroughly enjoyable and moving story about family, growing up, love, guilt and ultimately, forgiveness.
The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Juvenile fiction | 368 pages | July 2010 | Scholastic Press | 9780545165594 | Library copy