Readers will sense in the opening lines of “The Rattled Bones” the pull of a world beyond the normal bounds of time and space. “My mother had been pacing the lip of the ocean for hours, talking to the Water People the way she did. They tended to visit when the fog rose high, and the fog always rose high when my mother neared the sea.”

S.M. Parker’s new young adult novel, “The Rattled Bones,” is a ghost story, coming-of-age tale and historical novel all in one.

The Maine author sets it on our coast, not far from Malaga Island, a place haunted by history and the malevolence of outsiders. Islanders, descendants of Benjamin Darling, a black man who settled here generations back, with Abenaki Indians and a few Irish and Scottish fishermen mixed in, were forcefully removed in 1931.

Mainlanders viewed them as dispensable – immoral, disease-ridden and ignorant.

Many were interned on the mainland in Maine’s School for the Feeble Minded for the rest of their days – along with bones of their ancestors who’d been disinterred and removed so the state’s governor could build a hotel on the island to attract tourists.

As a small child, Rilla Brae, the story’s protagonist, watched her mother walk the shore, talking with the Water People no one else could see or hear. Her mother was eventually committed to a hospital.

The summer before Rilla is to start at Brown University on scholarship, her father dies alone aboard his lobster boat, the Rilla Brae, leaving Rilla solely in the care of Gram, her grandmother whose loving hand had raised her.

S.M. Parker

Rilla takes over hauling traps as captain of her father’s boat, feeling compelled to earn money to put aside to care for her grandmother after she leaves for school.

Working off of Malaga Island, Rilla, too, begins to hear voices. She spies a young girl on the uninhabited island. The girl sings as she runs into the forest.

When Rilla sees her again, carrying a baby, she goes ashore in search of her. She calls after her, but finds no one – except for a university student, Sam Taylor, doing archaeological research on the former island inhabitants. Rilla is drawn to him for his natural ease with her and also in part because he knows nothing of her crazy mother and the recent death of her father.

They share an interest in learning as much as possible about the former island residents.

Between hauling traps, Rilla begins spending time with Sam digging, literally and figuratively, for the truth of what happened to the people of Malaga Island. Sam’s interest is academic, but Rilla’s is personal, for she wants to know why their ghosts haunt her now like they did her mother.

The shame of what was done to the people of Malaga is deeply steeped in the local psyche, and Rilla is desperate to know if, perhaps, someone in her family played a part in their removal.

Rilla has more to contend with than voices calling to her. Someone cuts her lobster trap lines, sending a clear message that she’s not welcome on the water. Trouble erupts with her high school-dropout boyfriend, who is angered she’s going off to college. Gram, however, remains the steady rock in her life.

And the Water People keep calling to her. Come here, come here, my dear, my dear. She has nightmares about the singing girl with the baby. Some unseen presence carves messages into the sill of her window that looks out toward Malaga Island. “Find me. Don’t go. I’m here.”

As Sam helps her dig deeper into the mystery of the people of Malaga, she takes him on as her sternman to help pull more traps. Rilla keeps the secrets of her family from him, but Sam keeps secrets of his own. Raised in Arizona, he loves being near the sea. “The sea is like nothing else I’ve ever known,” he tells her. “It’s a fresh start.”

And Gram has secrets of her own … some she knows and some she hasn’t yet discovered.

The mystery of the singing girl with the baby, however, eludes their search. Census records give no indication of her presence on the island the year before the residents were removed.

“And … what if the girl has a story that can’t be told through the archives or your dig?” Rilla questions Sam. “What if the girl from the island has a story that she’s trying to tell me?

“Maybe this girl’s heart is connected to yours somehow,” Sam says. “Maybe that’s why you can see her.”

S.M. Parker’s story is wondrously compelling. Although it is targeted for young adult readers, it offers terrific storytelling that readers of all ages will respond to – wonderfully drawn characters, a great setting, a rich vein of historic truth that cries out to be broadly known, and a highly imaginative plot. I couldn’t put “The Rattled Bones” down.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, created by novelist Barbara Kingsolver “in support of a literature of social change.” Smith can be reached via his website: