Author: Robert Beatty
Serafina knows she’s different, not many children are born with only four toes on their feet and a knack for sneaking around in the dark. No one on Biltmore Estate knows that Serafina and her father have spent years secretly living in the basement. When Serafina, on one of her night expeditions, witnesses a cloaked figure kidnap a girl, she inadvertently stumbles upon a mystery. With more children going missing, Serafina must come out of hiding if she hopes to stop the Man in the Black Cloak from taking any more children.
“She’d seen the girl in the yellow dress consumed by the shadow-filled folds and knew the man in the black cloak was coming for her next. Her only hope was that he couldn’t hear the deafening pound of her heartbeat.”
Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak is a delightful middle grade read full of mystery and heart. Serafina has lived a clandestine life, her existence hidden from the Vanderbilts, her father’s employer and the owners of the Biltmore Estate. Like any other twelve-year-old, Serafina is full of questions, her curiosity is insatiable, and sometimes she feels ignored by adults, in this case her father. Throughout the novel, Serafina struggles with how different she is from other children. Her isolation has made her lonely; despite this, her bravery makes her shine in this novel. Serafina encounters a kindred spirit in the nephew of the Vanderbilts, Braeden, who also struggles with being different. Having lost his parents, Braeden finds refuge in his relationship with his dog and his fondness for working with horses. Braeden becomes the first person beside her father to know Serafina exists. His kindness and open-mindedness are just as important as Serafina’s bravery when it comes to her story.
I especially liked the mysterious forest Serafina’s father forbids her from entering. After all, there is no story if the heroine doesn’t get a chance to face the creepy woods that she is strangely drawn to. Full of gravestones, wild birds, and ferocious animals, Serafina faces her greatest challenge within this dark forest. There is a question of the nature of good and evil, whether Serafina, drawn to darkness, is inherently bad because of her nature. She is faced with a decision and learns that being good or evil is a matter of choice. Family also plays an important role in this novel as well, exploring what it means to be a family, finding it in unlikely places, and still being able to appreciate where you come from.
Seraphina and the Black Cloak is a winner, with a brave heroine, a creepy mystery, and a wonderful lesson on family and acceptance.