Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott
After 11 yr old Dmitri, who goes by D loses his mother to cancer, he's placed in foster care and goes to live with Mrs. Martin. Just happy to have a place to live, D is on his best behavior. D's only indulgence is bird watching in the park and he keeps to himself at school. D's status as a loner is challenged after he finds himself hanging out by chance with two of the popular kids, Hakeem and Nyla.
D's life changes forever after coming to the aid of a Bird that is anything but, its a being that goes by the name Nuru can take on any shape of its choosing. D has been selected has a host to assist Nuru in bringing peace to millions African American souls by providing them with a way to finally pass over. Though the friendship is newly formed Hakeem and Nyla will not let D do this alone.
When I finished it the first time I thought it was good. I loved the characters. They made the story for me. One of the things I love about Elliott's writing is she knows how to craft dimensional characters. Even the walk- ons, will leave an impression. Though at times this skill can lead the reader astray. I found myself being wanting to know more about the characters that were meant only to make a quick appearance. A good example of this was the eclectic group of kids that sit at Nyla's lunch table and embrace their freak status.
While this is D's story from beginning to end, Elliott still makes room for Hakeem and Nyla, sharing enough about both to paint a clear picture. Much of the appeal for all three characters comes from the fact that they easily come across as real teenagers, with distinct voices. The three had good chemistry together and I would've liked at least another chapter in which they got to know each other better.
The guiding spirit that goes by the name Nuru has the task of helping the dead who want to pass over to find eternal peace. Though Nuru has been held captive for 100 of years and unable to help the souls of many African Americans that died around the time of the American Revolution cross over. Nuru elects D has is host to complete this quest. When Nuru first appears I didn't know if D could trust this being or if it was simply using D has a host to accomplish its mission without any concern for his well being. I liked not knowing, it kept me on my toes.
The first time in I felt Ship of Souls had a few unexplored threads but there was still a lot to like about it. Beyond the characters its visually amazing. When the kids finally found the room where the African American souls were trapped, Elliott had my heart. She describe sorrow with such beauty. Also Elliott's writing is strong and crisp. There are moments and lines that are hard not to be moved by. The first time in I wished Ship of Souls was longer. However when I read it again I was more okay with the length (though I still wanted an extra chapter in which the three friends get to know each other better) and everything came together better.
Everything I enjoyed the first time was still there and I found a few more things to appreciate. Ship of Souls is claffisified as YA but comes across as more MG. Ages 11 up. The chapters are short making this an excellent choice for reluctant readhers. The cover wasn't final until around mid or late Janurary I believe but I think it was well worth the wait. I really like it and believe it has some serious eye appeal.
Starred Booklist review
Disclaimer aka putting it all out there - I am friends with the author and she sent me a review and finished copy from the author. Since some will think the line might be a bit blurred (which is understandable) I plan to link to more reviews of Ships of Soul once they become available. Though if you are worried about this reviews credibitility (though I hope you aren't ) I highly recommend reading the excerpt, the booklist review and the few reviews on amazon.