I don’t think I’ve previously encountered any of Marly Youmans’ work; but going by her website, at least some of her fantasy has been young-adult-oriented, and on the evidence of “Concealment Shoes” that doesn’t come as a surprise, for several reasons. First, it is a story about a sister (Beatrice, 14) and a brother (James, unspecified-but-younger), settling into their new home, their family having moved from the South to the North of the US. (The setting, I think, is roughly contemporary, although the titular tradition dates from the 18th century). Second, the stakes feel lower than in the other stories I’ve read so far; these are characters too young to have anything to atone for, and equally their innocence is never seriously threatened.
And third, Beatrice and James have more agency than any of the other characters I’ve encountered so far. In “The Night Whiskey” and “The Lepidopterist”, the protagonists were apprentices. They were involved in the story, but more by having things happen to them than doing things. Similarly, in “Femaville 29”, Parrish reacts more than he acts, and when he does act, it is usually in ways peripheral to the true story. In “Concealment Shoes”, on the other hand, Beatrice and James cause the problem — during a game of hide-and-seek in their rambling new cottage, stuffed with packing crates and boxes, James discovers two shoes, one small one large, stuck up a chimney. Beatrice helps him take them down, only for the two to discover that by so doing they’ve broken a ward that lay on the house, admitting a demon. So then, inevitably, the two children set about fixing the problem, by collecting one shoe for every member of their family and replacing the set that were in the chimney. There is still an element of distance between the reader and the action — Beatrice is the main viewpoint character, but it’s James who experiences “the signal moment” of his childhood — but it’s much less than in the Ford, the Shepard, or the di Filippo.
It has the feel of a thoroughly professional piece of writing that achieves what it sets out to do. The exciting bits are, mostly, exciting; the creepy bits are, mostly, creepy (particularly when the smoke demon is menacing Beatrice and James’ sleeping older brother); and the charming bits are, mostly, charming, although I could have done without the cat, or at least without the cat’s too-precious-for-words name, “Princess Owl”. It’s an adventure, and it zips along, and ends neatly. But when it’s done, it’s done. It doesn’t haunt; it evaporates: and so I find myself with little more to say.