Rachel Barnes’ life seemed to change forever after her elder brother Eric was killed in a car crash, when she was just fourteen; her parents divorced and she and her Mum set about moving house, time after time, trying to find a place to settle down again. In Harmless, by Katherine Dell, they’ve now left Vancouver and settled in her Mother’s small home town, with Rachel’s grandmother – a full-blooded native of the area. Despite being there for five months already, Rachel has yet to even unpack her boxes of stuff that she brought with them. When Rachel and her friends open a spirit box given to her by her Grandmother, strange things begin to occur. The spirits released; the white deer, crow and bear offer wishes to the young people, but also released is the evil “soul reaper”, the mythical black Wendigo. Rachel just wants to find her place in the world – can the spirits help her in that?
Aimed fairly and squarely at the young adult market, Harmless finds its mark. The characters of Rachel and her friends are clearly archetypical high-school seniors, unsure of where there lives will head after school and nervous about the prospects of leaving their home town and their friends to venture out into the world. Dell has done a good job of building the characters. Rachel especially was easy to identify and empathise with. Her angst over her brother’s loss is the centre of this story and Rachel’s friends merely bit players who aid her in her quest for freedom from the pain of her loss. I particularly enjoyed the supernatural portion of the story and the exploration of the Native myths and legends that created the spirit box and its contents. From a target audience perspective, this is a very readable book, with the usual teenage angst and love interests. I did enjoy the tenseness and conflict of Rachel’s relationships with the two male characters in her life; Mason and Nate. I think Katherine Dell has related an interesting and easily read tale here in Harmless and as the first book in a planned series, it’s a good start.