D’s mom was his best friend and his only family. When she passes away, he ends up in foster care with a kind elderly woman named Mrs. Martin. Not wanting to be sent back to the group home, D is mindful to always be the best possible version of himself. Like the grandmother he never had, Mrs. Martin cares for D, but lately her attention has been focused on a new addition to the family, a crack-addicted baby that Mrs. Martin has decided to foster. At school, he doesn’t have to worry so much about begin perfect, but he still joins the math club, because the coach asks him and he feels it would be rude to say he’d rather be alone. When star basketball player Hakeem’s dad is looking for a math whiz to tutor his son, D lands the job. D soon finds an ally and friend in Keem and together they attract the attention of Nyla, a beautiful, self-proclaimed freak. One day after school in the park, D comes across a trapped bird. In freeing the creature, he learns that what looks like a bird is actually a being from another realm. Not only that, but he is now the being’s host and there is an important task that he must take on. With his new friends by his side, he will attempt to gather the dead and help them find long overdue freedom.
If Zetta Elliott’s Bird and A Wish After Midnight had a baby, it would be Ship of Souls. While Bird‘s Mekhai and D are both unique, they have things in common – their respectful and calm temperaments, their intelligence, their fondness for birds, and their loss of a loved one. With A Wish After Midnight, the magic also begins during a visit to a park/garden in Brooklyn and the magic involves history, though in a much different way. I loved both of these previous Elliott works and I found that the similarities were a welcome connection rather than leaving me with a sense of “been-there, done-that”. In fact, even with familiar aspects, this book feels intensely original.
At just 132 pages, Elliott does an impressive job creating a cast of complex and amiable characters, weaving in history, and conjuring up some magic like I’ve never seen before. I would gladly spend more time with D, Keem, and Nyla. Each are interesting, distinct characters, but even more so their chemistry and their growing camaraderie were enchanting. Elliott does a fabulous job of creating believable characters in realistic settings. In both of her urban fantasy novels, I’ve found myself intensely connected to the contemporary/realistic sections of the stories, before diving headfirst with the characters into the fantasy. In Ship of Souls, what starts off feeling like a contemporary fiction novel, eventually turns into an all-out fantasy adventure. The story is fast-paced, with short chapters and lots of action, making it a great choice for struggling readers or those craving a quick read that doesn’t lack in quality and depth. While Ship of Souls is a bit more MG than YA, with it’s complex character development, strong sense of place, beautifully imagined fantasy, and unique feel, it should find a home with many ages of reader.