Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little

It's summer vacation and Larissa Renaud, 12, isn't really looking forward to it.  Her best friend is off to Paris with her grandmother and Larissa hasn't any other friends.  But what she does have is a serious scar running down the side of her face, gotten when she almost drowned in the Bayou Teche a year ago after falling from the broken bridge that once crossed over it on a dare.  Ironically, her Aunt Gwen had actually drowned the same way.

Now, living over the antique shop her parents had opened in Bayou Bridge, LA, her mother's childhood home, Larissa's summer prospects don't look interesting, at least not until an old disconnected antique phone rings and the voice on the other end tells Larissa to not only find the fireflies but to trust them as well.  After all, it's a matter of life or death.

Sure enough, later that day, Larissa finds the fireflies at, of all places, the broken bridge where she almost drowned.  As they swarm around her, enveloping her in their bright light, the bridge suddenly appears to be whole and safe.  Cautiously, Larissa crosses over it and by the time she reaches the other side, she has time-slipped back to 1912.

Larissa can't believe what she is seeing - her great great grandmother Anna Normand as a young girl surrounded by family and servants.  Anna's Uncle Edgar had just returned from the Caribbean where he had bought gifts for everyone, including a young African American servant named Dulcie who received a beautiful Victorian doll.  Anna, who received a pony, asks to hold the doll and never gives it back.  Larissa recognizes the doll as one her mother owns, kept locked on a display case, the doll whose eyes seem to follow her whenever she is in the same room.

As Larissa receives more mysterious phone calls from disconnected old phones and travels back to the past again and again with the help of the fireflies, she learns more and more about her family's tragic past and the beautiful doll that great great grandmother Anna had taken from Dulcie, its rightful owner, and who seems to always be present when tragedy strikes.  Is it possible that doll is cursed?  And could Larissa's mother and the baby she is expecting become it's next victims?

I should have known the minute the doll was mentioned that I was in for a creepy doll story.  And what better place to set a time-travel, creepy doll story than in a Louisiana Bayou, which always seems to have an aura of sinister mystery about it, anyway (at least, in books).  And Kimberley Griffiths Little does capitalize on that and has created a delightfully haunting coming of age story in which place is one of the best characters in the book.

Larissa is an OK character.  She's totally focused on her scar and tries to hide it as much as possible with her hair.  But, she is also so wrapped up in her anger at the two girls who dared her to stand on the edge of the broken bridge, that she has never let anyone explain how she was saved that day.  Solving the mystery around the creepy doll does help to pull her out of her self-pity so that she can see things more clearly - past and present.

And the mystery is interesting, though I thought too much time was spent in 1912, so that time travel episodes to other, later ancestors felt a bit rushed.  I did like the story of the doll, made by doll makers in the Dominican Republic at a place called the Island of Dolls, though I wish there had been a little more said about the doll's voodoo roots.

Despite my few grumblings, The Time of the Fireflies was a fun read, compelling and exciting.  I was pulled into the story immediately and read it in one sitting, wanting to find out what happens.  If you liked Doll Bones by Holly Black, you are sure to enjoy this creepy doll mystery.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. I, too, liked this but had a few quibbles. The mother's behavior was really disturbing. Still, I did buy a copy. Creepy doll stories always circulate well!

    1. Yes, I agree the mother's behavior was disturbing and I wondered if it couldn't have been handled differently, for Larissa's sake as well as the books young readers.


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