“So let’s raise our glasses to the accident season,

To the river beneath us where we sink our souls,

To the bruises and secrets, to the ghosts in the ceiling,

One more drink for the watery road.”

So much of what’s to come in The Accident Season is foretold in these opening 4 lines. Celebration, despair, pain and secrets are abound in Moira Fowley-Doyle’s debut novel.

It’s October which means accident season for 17 year old Cara, her older sister Alice, her (ex) step-brother Sam and her mother Melanie. For one month each year, Cara and her family are prone to accidents- broken bones, bruises, burns, concussions and far worse. Sharp corners are padded, knives are hidden and every safety precaution is taken. But still the accidents happen, the kind that leave mental scars as well as physical one.

As the accident season begins, Cara notices that her classmate Elsie seems to be in just about every picture on Cara’s cellphone. She’s either in the background, off to the side, a hint of Elsie in every picture. And not just photos from school but family photos, vacations, places Elsie just shouldn’t be. When Cara tries to confront Elsie at school it seems that Elsie has disappeared. What’s stranger than Elsie’s absence is the fact that no one but Cara seems to notice. With the help of her best friend Bea and her (ex) step-brother Sam, Cara digs into the mystery of Elsie. The deeper Cara digs, the more she’s convinced that something very wrong is happening. According to Bea’s reading of the tarot cards, this accident season is going to be bad, “one of the worst”. And the cards never lie. Cara must find Elsie before the accident season ends in tragedy.

In search of Elise, Cara and her friends unearth secrets long buried. They must figure out if the accident season is part of some family history or just an old wives’ tale. And if the accident season doesn’t really exist, how does the pain caused by it feel so real? The Accident Season becomes a story of hauntings-the hauntings of suppressed memories, hidden truths and the control over one’s own destiny.

There is a melancholy that is draped over The Accident Season from the beginning. Part mystery, part magical realism, part coming of age tragedy, we follow several story lines. There is the question of whether the accident season is real or perceived, there is the mystery of Cara’s disappeared classmate, and there are the secrets which the characters keep from each other and themselves. The story works best when we are examining the very real life of Cara, her intensifying feelings for her not-quite-brother, her relationship with her far prettier sister with the seemingly perfect life and Cara’s friendship with Bea whose spirit sometimes burns a bit too brightly. But where The Accident Season falters is when we leave the lives of the real characters to chase ghosts. The real truths are fare scarier than the imagined ones.