Sixteen-year-old Jennie Lovell recently learned that her twin, Toby, was killed while away preparing to fight in the Civil War after coming down with an illness so prevalent in those times. She knew instantly when he died, though, even before her family was notified. Then her cousin Quinn comes home, unrecognizable in his haunted state, and says that her fiancé Will was also lost. But the facts do not add up as fast as the layers of stories, and Jennie works to uncover the truth of what happened to her beloved in Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown’s page-turning mystery, filled with illustrations based on actual Civil War photos and letters.
Will was also Quinn’s brother, and now Jennie is living with the family that would have been her in-laws --- an aunt who despises her and an uncle who looks the other way as she is mistreated. Her only friends are the servants in the house now that Will and Toby are both gone. Quinn was always aloof and harsh, and now he stays in his room, leaving only to pace in the gardens. Jennie longs to talk to him about Will’s death, but the answers he gives are not satisfactory. Why is the Commander’s letter a different date from the ones Quinn discusses? She does learn that Will and Quinn were imprisoned at the infamous Civil War prison Andersonville.
Out of her head with grief, Jennie’s aunt now wants all those close to Will to take a picture from a man who supposedly can conjure spirits to join family members in photos. This scam was popular at the time of the Civil War as so many bereaved families sought solace. Jennie would not mind connecting with Will, though she doubts the process. But when Will appears angry to her during the photo shoot, the photographer knows he is trying to tell her something. Then she gets a message to go to a tree where her initials and a heart with Will’s were carved. Buried there is a locket she gave Will.
Quinn is nicer now, and Jennie begins to help him with his convalescence in between collecting clues. She is getting confused about her feelings for him, especially when she finds another soldier in town who says he knew Will, and that Will is not a good person. She finds evidence that a group of men in the prison were Raiders, stealing from others and even killing. Quinn tells her that Will was among that terrible group. This appears to fit with what she found out, though the spirit of Will still seems angry with her, so she turns to the photographer for help.
Quinn resolves to move on with her life and grows closer to Will. But then his spirit won’t leave her alone, and she takes a fresh look at everything --- and everyone --- she has encountered, only to find that she is in danger. PICTURE THE DEAD is filled with interesting historical detail and excellent illustrations that heighten the suspense, and readers will enjoy traveling through time in this Civil War caper.
Reviewed by Amy Alessio on May 1, 2010