Book Review: Who Is Francis Rain?

643947Title: Who Is Francis Rain?

Author: Margaret Buffiez

Genre: Paranormal Mystery

Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N

In this 20th-anniverary edition of the novel by Margaret Buffie, it’s going to be a long, hot summer for 15-year-old Lizzie. Normally a vacation at her grandmother’s northern Manitoba cottage is the highlight of the year, but this summer the whole family is going along, including her new stepfather whom she detests. To escape the family’s bickering, Lizzie explores a nearby island, where she finds the remains of an old cabin and uncovers a pair of spectacles. When she tries on the old glasses she is surprised to find herself watching a woman and girl from the past. Lizzie is determined to find out who these ghosts are, and why they are appearing to her. Enlisting the help of her grandmother’s teenage neighbor, Alex, she puts together clues about the ghosts’ identities and in doing so, finds a way to help her estranged family reunite. It’s a compelling story, carrying young readers from the present to the past and back again.

I started reading Who Is Francis Rain? years ago, when I was about ten years old. The book didn’t grab me. It dragged here and there, the characters didn’t intrigue me, and although I remember being scared by the ghostly apparitions the first time around, this feeling quickly vanished when more was revealed. But I used my hard-earned money to purchase a copy of the book, so I knew I had to give it another shot. Now, more than ten years later, I dug it up from my book closet and gave it another shot.

This book was popular way before young adult was ever a genre – at least not the way it is now, so it’s a bit difficult to classify. The main character fits the target age group for young adult, but the interactions with other characters, story difficulty and development, make me believe it would be more easily classified for a middle grade audience nowadays.

Either way, the story starts by introducing us to 15-year-old Lizzie, who is going to spend the summer with her family in her grandmother’s cottage. Lizzie isn’t so keen on the whole family, including Mom’s new husband, tagging along. She doesn’t get along well with her Mom’s new husband, nor with her brother, who has been acting like a doofus since the start of summer. But Lizzie loves her grandmother, who spends hours telling her stories. To escape her family’s bickering, Lizzie takes the canoe to a nearby deserted island, where she finds the ruins of an old cabin and a pair of glasses. Before she can stop herself, Lizzie puts the glasses on, and gets a snapshot into the past, into a time when a mysterious woman lived on the island, and an evil-looking man brought a young girl to live on the island as well.

Lizzie has stumbled upon an age-old mystery that she’s somehow connected to. As the call of the ghosts of the island get stronger, and Lizzie begins to wonder more often about the peculiar woman who lived on the island once, Francis Rain, Lizzie wants nothing more than to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The story isn’t spectacular, and the stakes aren’t so high. Sure, Lizzie is somehow connected to Francis, but it’s not like there are lives at stake. However, the story was enjoyable, and had streaks of originality here and there. Back when it was written, it was probably rather original, but now it’s a bit dull, and the plot is similar to that of a lot of other stories. Lizzie wasn’t a very pleasant main character as well. Like most teenagers, she can be stubborn at times, often even childish, especially in regards to her Mom’s new husband. I didn’t find that particularly annoying at first, but after a while, it got bothersome. The guy isn’t really all that bad – he’s actually pretty decent – which makes things even worse. What I did like, was how easy Lizzie could accept what was going on, without going down the ‘ghosts don’t exist’ path after seeing proof for herself.

There’s a romance story in this book as well, but it’s a small storyline and barely worth mentioning. The writing was all right, although perhaps a bit dull at times.

I would recommend this book mostly to middle graders, or to the younger members of the YA audience. It has a fun story if you’re into ghost stories, but don’t expect too much from it.

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