Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty is an exciting tale of friendship, difficult choices, and mystery. Serafina has spent her life hiding in the basement of the Biltmore estate. Her father works on the estate, but no one knows that he lives in the basement, and no one knows anything about Serafina. She comes out at night to explore and to catch the rats that would otherwise trouble the estate.
Although she is sometimes restless and longs for a friend, she obeys her father’s instructions to stay hidden and to never go into the forest. Then one night she sees a man capture a little girl who disappears into his black cloak. Soon, Serafina finds out that the girl is not the first child to mysteriously disappear. She has to decide then: Is she going to stay hidden or help? Is she predator or prey? Can she and the Vanderbilt’s nephew, Braeden, really be friends? Who is the Man in the Black Cloak and how can she stop him? At the same time, she is questioning her background and wondering just how human she is—and if she is not human, what that means.
Beatty gives his young heroine plenty of trouble to face, and plenty of grit to face it with. Serafina’s decisions are not always easy ones, but they are undoubtedly her decisions, things she has thought through and acted upon herself. Her father may keep her hidden, but there is no doubt that he loves her, and that gives her a strong ground from which to act. The result is a book where light and darkness show strongly. There are moments that are terrifying and moments that are uplifting as Serafina tracks her answers down.
Serafina and the Black Cloak is perfect for middle-school readers who like excitement, dark forests, and determined heroines.