Elem. – A Friend for Ghost

Kaufman, Suzanne. A Friend for Ghost. Neal Porter Books, 2022. 978-0-823-44852-4. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-2.

Ghost lives in the attic above a family. No one pays much attention to Ghost, until one day a helium balloon drifts by. Convinced this is the friend Ghost has been waiting for, Ghost decorates the red balloon with a face, creating a new friend. Ghost and the balloon are inseparable and share everything. When Ghost lets go of the balloon’s string in a game of hide and seek gone awry, Ghost fears his new friend is lost forever. Devastated, Ghost desperately looks everywhere for the red balloon. Dejected and sad, Ghost sits on a park bench, where he is approached by a bow-tie sporting ghost holding a red balloon. The two ghosts become instant friends and share their red balloon. 

THOUGHTS: This simple text is turned into a beautiful story through Kaufman’s delightful and emotionally engaging pictures. Sketched on top of watercolor backgrounds, the illustrations show the emotional journey of Ghost from longing, to celebrating, to grieving, to hopeful. This book will inspire discussions about friendship and feelings. A wonderful, not-scary, Ghost story.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

YA – The Ghosts of Rose Hill

Romaro, R.M. The Ghosts of Rose Hill. Peachtree Teen, 2022. 978-1-682-63338-0. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

“Maybe sixteen is a curse, a time when everyone is stuck between being a child and being something else.” Ilana is 16, and more than anything else, she wants to be a musician. Her parents, both refugees, want Ilana to pick a different career path, one that offers her more stability in her future. When she travels from her hometown of Miami to Prague to spend the summer with her aunt, she discovers an overgrown Jewish cemetery. As a member of the Jewish faith, she feels the need to uncover the forgotten headstones, and while she spends time clearing the cemetery, she meets a ghost named Benjamin and a mysterious man named Rudolph Wasserman. As she befriends Benjamin, Wasserman encourages her to play her music and follow her heart. As Ilana discovers the truth about Benjamin and his connection to the city, Wasserman offers her a place within his house where she can play music and live forever. Although the offer sounds like a dream, Benjamin reveals it’s really a nightmare, and Ilana must find a way to save him and the other children bound to Wasserman and his magic, even if it means risking everything.

THOUGHTS: The Ghosts of Rose Hill is written in prose and incorporates both Jewish and Prague history into this unique ghost story. In many ways, this story reminded me of Coraline. Rudolph Wasserman lures children into his home with promises of a perfect life away from their families before stealing and hiding their souls.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – M Is for Monster

Dutton, Talia. M Is for Monster. Abrams ComicArts, 2022. 978-1-4197-5197-4. 224 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Frankenstein’s monster gets a gender-flipped, graphic novel update in Talia Dutton’s M Is for Monster! Innovative scientist Frances Ai lost her younger sister in a laboratory accident six months ago. Frankie cobbled Maura back together and, with the help of a well-timed lightning strike, brought her back to life. However, she isn’t quite … Maura. “M” has no memories from before her resurrection, and she fears that Frankie may take apart and reassemble her over and over again until she gets it right. She finds an unlikely ally in the ghost of Maura, who appears in mirrors and coaches M through interactions with her older sister. This way, M avoids a dismantling and Maura gets to keep living, in a fashion. But the cracks in this arrangement begin to show as M and Maura assert their individuality. Can they both find a path forward, or will Frankie intercept their Cyrano de Bergerac-style ruse? Author and illustrator Talia Dutton uses a green, black, and white color scheme (and plenty of period details) to portray M’s limited but intriguing world. It’s one she desperately wants to continue living in, and readers will feel the same!

THOUGHTS: What first appears to be a straightforward horror novel is also a thought-provoking take on grief and identity.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Gallant

Schwab, V.E. Gallant. Greenwillow Books, 2022. 978-0-062-83577-2. 337 p. $18.99. Grades 6-8.

Gallant introduces the reader to Olivia Prior, a girl who lives at Merilance and spends her days reading her mother’s journal, avoiding the other girls who bully her, and catching the attention of the ghosts who are still at Merilance. One day, she is told that someone has written for her and she will be going to a place called Gallant. When she gets there, life is not as wonderful and perfect as she thinks it is. She finds that her cousin, Matthew doesn’t want her there, repeatedly tells her that as well as trying to convince her to leave and tells her that his father wrote her that letter, but he’s now dead. However, now that Olivia has found the house that her mother grew up in, she won’t leave until she figures out what is going on. But Gallant has lots of secrets, and she will have to fight not only her cousin, but the supernatural to figure out what happened to her mother.

THOUGHTS: This is a great spooky, creepy book for the fall season. The main character Olivia is very strong willed and I think she will appeal to a lot of readers. Highly recommend this new V. E. Schwab addition to any middle school collection.

Mystery        Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Horror

YA – Family of Liars

Lockhart, E. Family of Liars. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-48585-9. 299 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

In this prequel to We Were Liars,  we are transported back to the 1980s on the small private island off the coast of Massachusetts that belongs to the Sinclair family. As the title states, this is a family of liars. A family that has many dark secrets. This story takes place over a summer and focuses on the Sinclair sisters and the events that will alter the lives of the Sinclairs. They are joined on their summer vacation by their cousin, Yardley Sinclair who has brought three teenage boys with her. This will not be a normal summer of picnics, fireworks, and swimming for the Sinclairs. The boys bring about a change of atmosphere to the island that will end with tragedy. The family will have to live up to their reputation as liars once again in order to survive.

THOUGHTS: First, this is a prequel and should be read AFTER reading We Were Liars.  This book will appeal to those who enjoy intrigue, mystery, drama, and ghost stories. Lockhart is able to write a story that flows so smoothly that students want more.

Mystery Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Readers of We Were Liars (2014) are taken back in time to meet the Sinclair family, each a liar in their own way. Welcome to summer at Beechwood, the Sinclair family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Appearances are everything, and the family lives by their father Harris’s mottoes: “Here in the Sinclair family…We make the best of things.” At the end of the summer of 1986 Rosemary, the youngest Sinclair sister, drowns, and each family member copes separately. Rosemary is rarely mentioned after her death, though, and Carrie, the oldest of the four sisters, struggles immensely with this loss. Just two weeks after losing Rosemary, Carrie and her sisters Penny and Bess leave Beechwood for the North Forest Academy boarding school where Carrie continues to struggle. Returning to Beechwood in the summer of 1987 isn’t much help, as Rosemary’s things have been taken to the attic. Uncle Dean arrives with his kids, Yardley and Tomkin, and Yardley has a surprise: she’s brought “the boys” (her boyfriend George and his friends Major and Pfeff). And so ensues another summer – however different – on Beechwood. Lines in the sand will be drawn and crossed, relationships will be tested, and lies will be told. But above all else, “We make the best of things.”

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The List of Unspeakable Fears

Kramer, J. Kasper. The List of Unspeakable Fears. Atheneum, 2021. 978-1-534-48074-2. 273 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Essie O’Neill has experienced a lot in her ten years. Life in New York City in 1910 can be hazardous. After the death of her beloved Da, Essie becomes more and more fearful of things both ordinary and extraordinary, to the point where her life is severely curtailed. When her mother suddenly announces that she has remarried and she and Essie will be moving, with her new husband, to North Brother Island, Essie’s fears go into overdrive. North Brother Island is an isolation ward for individuals with incurable diseases, such as smallpox. Once installed on the island, Essie’s night terrors grow worse and she becomes convinced there is a ghostly presence in the house. She fears her new stepfather, a doctor at the quarantine hospital, certain he is responsible for the disappearance of many nurses who work on the island. But maybe Essie has reason to be afraid. Why does her stepfather roam the island in the middle of the night? Who is opening her locked bedroom door? And then there is the island’s most famous resident: Typhoid Mary. This pint-sized gothic tale contains plenty of moments to give young readers delightful shivers, but also weaves in a fascinating historical foundation, including life on North Brother Island, Typhoid Mary’s fight to leave her forced quarantine on the island, and the horrific fire aboard the steamboat General Slocum. Themes of the story touch on dealing with grief and the death of a parent, overcoming traumatic experiences, and the universal childhood frustration of not being taken seriously by adults. Essie’s patient stepfather proves endearingly adept at treating Essie with respect and providing the guidance she needs to find a path to recovery.

THOUGHTS: This just-spooky-enough story, with twists and turns, should captivate readers, who will sympathize with Essie’s fears and frustrations.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Too Bright to See

Lukoff, Kyle. Too Bright to See. Penguin Random House, 2021. 978-0-593-11115-4. $16.99. 188 p. Grades 4-7.

Set in the summer before middle school starts in rural Vermont, Bug and her friend Mo, who now wants to be called Moira, are preparing themselves for the start of something new. Moira takes it upon herself to plan makeovers and make as many new friends as she can before school starts, but all of this makes Bug feel not right. Bug’s uncle, who moved to Vermont with Bug and her mom after her father passed away when Bug was an infant, just passed away leaving them to figure out how to move on. Their old creaky house has always been filled with ghosts, but now the ghost game has stepped up, and Bug is trying to figure out who this ghost is and what it is trying to say! As Bug uncovers the mystery of the ghost and what it is trying to say, Bug makes a huge discovery – he is transgender.   

THOUGHTS: This book was scarier than I thought it would be! The ghosts in Bug’s house are pretty aggressive at times, so this would appeal to horror readers. The author is transgender, and you can’t help but think that this authentic story may be semi-autobiographical. Bug’s friends’ acceptance of his identity gives you faith that kids are way more accepting than adults in these matters.

Mystery         Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

MG – Pony

Palacio, R.J. Pony. Alfred A Knopf, 2021. 978-0-553-50811-6. $17.99. 304 p. Grades 4-7.

This historical fiction selection tells the story of Silas, a 12 year old boy living with his father in rural Ohio. Awoken in the middle of night by three strange men, Silas’ father is asked to accompany these men for a nefarious seeming reason. After some back and forth, Silas’ father agrees to leave with the men, to return in one week’s time. Silas is told to stay put and wait. The next day, one of the horses returns to the farm. Silas takes this as a sign that he is to set out to find his father. Silas is joined by Mittenwool, a ghost boy who has been with Silas since he was a tiny boy. Along his journey, Silas runs into people who help him on his quest to find his father. He also realizes that he can see those who have passed on. In his quest to find his father, Silas confronts many fears and mysteries that connect his past and future.   

THOUGHTS: I had many questions of how Silas and his pony were able to sustain such a harrowing journey, but the scene where they find his father and his captures is a really exciting and a page turner! There is a lot of death in this story, so it’s definitely for the more mature reader. It’s kind of a cross between The Sixth Sense (I see dead people) and a western.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD
Adventure

YA – We Can Be Heroes

McCauley, Kyrie. We Can Be Heroes. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-062-88505-0. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

The town of Bell is known for one thing – it’s firearms. When the heir to the company goes into his school and shoots his ex-girlfriend Cassie and then himself, the town moves on – just a bit too quickly. Beck, Cassie’s long time friend, is angered that people turned a blind eye to what happened. Beck decides to paint murals in and around the town to bring attention to the tragedy. After the first mural, Cassie (in ghost form) visits Beck in her VW van, determined to find closure. Along with Cassie’s other friend, Vivian, the trio set out to bring Cassie justice with just a touch of vengeance. Planning out the themes of their murals, gathering supplies, and finding the perfect location get harder as more attention is given to the art. Things get a bit complicated when a podcaster hears of the murals and starts investigating Cassie’s murder and the Bell family. But their time is running out as local law enforcement start closing in on who is responsible for the murals that depict Greek myths and the haunting connection to Cassie’s death. 

THOUGHTS: In McCauley’s second novel she chooses various writing styles to complement each character’s story. Cassie’s story is told in verse, Vivian and Beck in prose, and the podcaster in a script style. This was a heartbreaking story to read, but did a beautiful job of bringing attention to gun violence and domestic abuse. 

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD
Fantasy (Paranormal)

MG – The Ghoul Next Door

Bunn, Cullen. The Ghoul Next Door. Harper Alley, 2021. 978-0-062-89610-0. 192 p. $21.99. Grades 4-8.

In Ander’s Landing, eleven year old Grey is excited to bring his scale model of the local cemetery to school for a project. Grey and his friend Marshall head off when Grey has the idea to take a shortcut through the cemetery. Marshall disagrees, and when Grey heads out by himself, he trips and his model drops into a giant hole where a creepy hand snatches it. Given a second chance by his teacher, Grey stays up to make a new model when a scratching at his window distracts him and causes him to stay up all night. The next day when Grey displays his model, his teacher finds real bones inside the coffins and mausoleums. Then night after night “gifts from the dead” appear in Grey’s room – a doll, a brush made out of bones, and more. When Grey takes the gifts back to the cemetery, he meets the gifter, a ghoul named Lavinia. Lavinia visits Grey and takes him on a tour of the haunted places of Ander’s Landing to teach him history and make him more aware of the dangers that lurk in the cemetery. However, when his friend Marshall is taken to the underworld as punishment for seeing Lavinia, the pair must work together to rescue him from the other ghouls, also known as the “eaters of the dead.’. 

THOUGHTS: The perfect amount of creepy and spooky for middle level readers. The panels are easy to follow and beautifully drawn – even for ghouls! The story flows from page to page and will leave readers on the edge of their seat.

Graphic Novel        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD