I'm almost at a loss for words reflecting on Saundra Mitchell's "Mistwalker" - because I haven't quite read a story like this in YA at all, and that's a very good thing. It's kind of this dark paranormal story with a bit of a fairy tale leaning, but also a story of grief and trials for a family among other things. The long and short of summarizing it would be that it was a fine ghost story, and I enjoyed the experience for what it offered.
To say that Willa's family has been through a lot in the past year or so for events in this work is an understatement. Following the death of her brother, Willa tries to help her family make ends meet with the family business boating and on the water, but at the same time facing a trial and testimony in the events surrounding her brother's death. Her father tells her not to take the boat out again, but she finds herself escaping by the boat to the mysterious lighthouse where the fabled "Grey Man" is said to dwell. The story toggles between Willa's trials with her family and necessity for escapism, and the perspective of the Grey Man himself - who isn't a man at all, just a boy around Willa's age. He's been in the tower, a prisoner who gets all that he wants but freedom from the waters, a being made of mist.
I'm actually glad that this didn't turn out to be a paranormal romance, but rather an apt ghost story/dark tale that has its fair share of revelations. You can tell that Grey has his own aims to try to draw Willa in order to break his own curse, but he doesn't realize how independent and willing to sacrifice Willa is with the dire state of her family relations and position. It's really a compelling tale and rather immersive, especially with the boating knowledge, Willa's relations with her family, friends and S.O. (though it's really brief).
The only part I can say about this tale that keeps me from rating it higher is that the pacing of it seemed a bit bogged down, and it takes a little while to get the momentum going for what the story provides. I think when Willa finally meets Grey, things start speeding up along the way - and ultimately, there are some great scenes of tension between the characters in spaces here, both on the paranormal front as well as the conflicts that become very real for events. Willa's a great protagonist and I definitely felt her frustration and desperation in turns. I was a little weary at first about Grey's character, but even in the scheme of things, I understood his perspective and why he thought the way he did. Mitchell does a fine job of toggling between the perspectives of the two, particularly after the point which they meet.
I liked it. It was my first reading experience from Saundra Mitchell; I'd definitely like to read more from her in the future, if this tale is any indication. It's a solid ghost story, not so much scary as it is with a lingering eeriness and grounded tensions that feel palpable enough to resound with very real consequences, if a bit quick in terms of its resolution.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher HMH Childrens.