‘The Rosemary Spell’ is Almost Enchanting

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Cover for The Rosemary Spell by Virginia ZimmermanThe Rosemary Spell is a book I desperately wish had gotten one more rewrite. It is very promising with some truly haunting moments, but there are enough flat moments to keep it from fully living up to its promise.

Virginia Zimmerman is dealing with some strong stuff here: The power of language, the ability of stories to keep people together, the sorrow of growing older and growing apart, all of this wrapped around an inventive riddle that keeps the protagonists desperately hunting until the end. Rosie, Adam, and Shelby have always been a threesome with Shelby, the eldest, looking after the other two, finding them books to read together, talking about the books with them, and traveling with them to the tangled little island. Now, all three are growing up. Adam and Rosie are thirteen; Shelby is sixteen. She still stops by, but is gradually leaving their lives, spending more time with other friends. Then Rosie and Adam find a strange, old book with a spell that makes people disappear—even from memory—and Shelby vanishes entirely. With only a little time and fragmenting memories, the two have to bring her back.

There are some great moments here, when Rosie is distracted and forgets Shelby entirely, and then remembers suddenly what she is missing, for example. She and Adam also visit an elderly woman whose Alzheimer’s is robbing her of memory in a different, non-magical way, and the combination is jolting. It is stories and a love of language that bound the three together for a long time, and it will be words that bring them back together. That’s powerful stuff.

Unfortunately, these strengths are interspersed with long discussions of poetry and its meaning—discussions I could not quite believe two thirteen year olds would have, not at that length, and the reproduction of a class session on poetry, in case the reader needs another lecture on it. Adam and Rosie also say the lines they use to keep their memory of Shelley alive over and over, with each repetition given in the text. The reader already knows the rhyme and can remember perfectly well, so this begins to grate.

All of this makes The Rosemary Spell a book with some really good moments, and some singularly flat spaces, one that never quite lives up to its potential.

The Rosemary Spell comes out on December 1, 2015. Look for it on Amazon.

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