Book Review: Spirit of Summerwood
By Vivien Gorham
Nimbus Publishing Limited, 2022; Fiction; ISBN: 9781774710654; 296 pages; paperback.
Reviewed by Sage Millen
Aislinn loves Summerwood Farm more than anything else (except probably her fiery chestnut Arabian, Firefly). Every summer, she stays at the farm for two weeks of riding camp alongside her best friend, Jill.
This year, though, she can’t seem to stay out of trouble. She keeps spotting a fox and an owl that none of the people around her seem to be able to see. After sneaking out at night to track them, Aislinn realizes that the mysterious animals are actually different forms of a young Mi’kmaw ghost named Gabe who died in 1926. He needs her help to cross over into the spirit world so he can reunite with his family.
Meanwhile, Aislinn makes another discovery. Rumours have been floating around the camp about a developer buying the land leased by Summerwood Farm. When Aislinn gets called to the office of the stable owner, Grace, she happens to see an email on Grace’s computer confirming that the land will be sold to a real estate company. Although Grace owns the stable itself, she doesn’t own the cross-country course, trails, or jumping ring. The surrounding land is also valuable in a historic sense: it is the site of the former Poor farm and cemetery, as well as traditional Mi'kmaw territory. Aislinn is determined to stop the developer from building houses on the land and hopes to turn it into a provincial park instead.
As it progresses, the story follows two main plots: Aislinn trying to help Gabe “move on,” and her fight to keep Summerwood Farm from being developed. Both storylines are quite engaging. They’re linked in the sense that Gabe is Mi’kmaw and one of the key reasons the developers can’t build there is because the site contains an ancient Mi’kmaw burial ground.
I really enjoyed the character development throughout the story. Aislinn is a spunky and passionate heroine, whose refusal to follow rules leads to many antics and close shaves. She starts the story as rather self-centred, but over the course of the book learns to care about and fight for others. She also improves her relationship with her family, especially her brother.
Overall, Spirit of Summerwood is a fun, progressive book with lots of horsiness. A blend of genres, it encompasses Indigenous allyship and Poor farm history, as well as 2SLGBTQIA+ and disabled campers. Even somebody who has never ridden a horse will be able to enjoy the book and relish the descriptive passages when Aislinn and Firefly gallop through the forest, wind blowing in their hair. I would recommend this book for an animal lover looking to read a light but eye-opening story about struggling to do the right thing, even if it means breaking rules.