"There were no surprises in Gatlin County. At least, that's what I thought. Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong. There was a curse. There was a girl. And in the end. there was a grave. I never saw it coming."
Ethan Wate has just awaken from the same dream he has been having for months, ever since his mom died in a car accident. In the dream, Ethan and a girl are falling and he is unable to catch her. This is the only part he can remember. He cannot see her face, but he feels like he is in love with her, even before first sight. Even after he wakes up, Ethan can still smell her scent; lemons and rosemary. He sees an unfamiliar song on his iPod, Sixteen Moons, and listens. The song is moody and creepy but he feels as if he has heard it before.
In a town where change is a rarity, there is a new girl at school for the first time since the third grade. Ethan's dream is to escape Gatlin where it seems that the War of Northern Aggression is still being fought. And everything about you and your family matters, down to your family tree to what clothes you wear. The new girl already has several strikes; her choice in clothes and no tan. The biggest strike against her is the fact she is Old Man Ravenwood's niece, the town's recluse who no one has seen since before Ethan was born. Lena Duchannes begins to haunt Ethan and he finds himself explicated drawn to her. Even if it means becoming a social outcast himself.
While in art class, Ethan hears the band practicing in the room below. The sound soon changes from Dixie to the haunting viola solo playing a melody that Ethan remembers from his iPod, Sixteen Moons. He quickly slips back into the falling girl dream. When the bell rings, Ethan rushes to the band room in hopes of finding Lena. The stage is empty but he smells lemons and rosemary and finds out from the band director that the soloist is the new girl in town. He skips basketball practice and borrows his friend's car in hopes of finding Lena and getting some answers to his questions. A torrential rainstorm has hit Gatlin and Ethan is having trouble staying on the road. Ethan slams on the brakes and is spinning out of control when he notices someone standing in the road, Lena Duchannes. Ethan suddenly remembers that she is the girl from his dream. She denies everything but Ethan remains convinced. He takes her home to Ravenwood Plantation. They begin to talk, but in the end, Ethan feels overwhelmed and brushes Lena off.
The next day in English class, Lena bumps into Ethan. Sparks fly and an overhead light shorts out. Lena asks in front of the class if he was trying to kill her just like the night before. Those last two words could be a social killer at Stonewall Jackson High School. But Ethan's ex-girlfriend Emily and her gang of popular cheerleaders are out to humilate Lena. Ethan attempts to block this attack but they begin to compare Lena's uncle to Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird. Ethan starts hearing a voice inside his head. He thinks it is coming from Lena. When pushed, the voice screams and the window shatters. Ethan notices that Lena looks frightened and the voice says that "I didn't mean to." He sees her hand is bleeding but she runs from the room before he can ask if she is alright.
When Lena's voice inside his head says "Don't", Ethan commits social suicide and runs after her. Just because he was never the bully, Ethan still stood by and watched others. This time he wouldn't sit idly by. He walked out of school and followed Lena home. "Even if home was Ravenwood, and she had gone home to Gatlin's own Boo Radley." Ethan finds out that Ravenwood is impressive even if it is run down. He opens the door hearing the Sixteen Moons melody and realizes that Lena is near. The interior of the house was shocking. Bright and airy and filled with modern furniture. He comes across a large black dog or wolf with odd looking eyes. Ethan runs from the house when the dog growls.
As Ethan runs down a path to find Lena, they continue to talk in their minds to one another. He finds her crying in an overgrown garden and she asks why he didn't he leave. He came to check on her and they soon discover they share a love of books. He realizes that he is sitting on a stone slab and they begin to talk about the dream. Neither realized the other was a real person until they met. Lena doesn't want Ethan around because her life is complicated and it would be better if he wasn't involved. Ethan is touching Lena's hand when he finds a small stone next to the slab. Soon they are thrown into a dream where General Sherman and the Union soldiers are burning down the plantations neighboring Ravenwood. They see the dream through the eyes of a young woman named Genevieve.
Upon opening his hand, Ethan realizes he unearthed a cameo locket. "Greenbrier" is engraved on it along with the date "February 11th, 1865." Feb. 11th is Lena's birthday and she tells Ethan that "nothing in my life is a coincidence. Ethan finds himself inexpliciably drawn to Lena, even though her life is shrouded in mystery. Why is her uncle so reclusive? What is the mystery surrounding Ravenwood? And who or what is Lena Duchannes?
More questions than answers occur but you have got to love a book where the librarian is one of the good guys.
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"Some secrets are life-altering. Others are life-ending."
Beautiful Darkness - Book Two
"A few months ago, I believed nothing would ever change in this town. Now I knew better, and I only wished it was true."
The continuation of Athan and Lena's story where endings are not always happily ever after. Their story picks up a few days after book one ends. The Caster Chronicles will continue with book three in the Fall of 2011 amd book four follows Fall of 2012.