MG – The International House of Dereliction

Davies, Jacqueline. The International House of Dereliction. Clarion, 2023.  978-0-063-25807-5. 230 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Alice and her parents, Professor Cannoli (her mother) and George Potchnik (her father) are facing their eleventh move in Alice’s ten years. Housing is part of Professor Cannoli’s compensation at the college she works for, but the problem is that George and Alice are quite good at fixing things. They fix each house the family moves into so well that the college sells the house for a big profit, then moves them into a new wreck. Professor Cannoli, arguing that Alice is of an age in which being rooted in one home is critical, devises a plan to get the college to let them stay in their new house forever. Rather than fix up their new home, the Cannoli-Potchnick family must accept their new home’s shortcomings without fixing a thing until the college grants it to them as permanent housing. Once moved in, Alice, who is unschooled, feels drawn to the condemned mansion next door, and quickly gets the “Potchnik itch” to begin repairs. As she secretly fixes the house, she discovers that it seems to be alive… and protective of the ghosts who occupy it. The ghosts on their end, believe that Alice has received the “blessing of the house” because SHE can actually see and hear them. As Alice works on her restoration, she gains the trust of The House and unravels clues about the ghosts’ past that will help them move on from the home to become “Settled.” All of this happens as demolition day approaches for the old mansion.

THOUGHTS: This is an absolute gem of a book, with many different layers for middle grade readers to enjoy. Jacqueline Davis successfully creates a unique world of ghosts in which they are classified as Past Dues, Settled Ones, Wanderers, or Captives, depending on their circumstances.  Each ghost appears to Alice in a variety of different forms and with different characteristics (twinkling shards of glass, raindrops, angry squiggles, etc.) that reflect their mood and past. Alice, her parents, and the professors at the college are quirky with unique personalities developed to the author’s descriptions, vocabulary, and writing style for each. This is not a ghost story to scare or thrill, but one to engross middle grade readers in a world of family, the passage of time, character, and storytelling. Highly recommended for all libraries looking for a great story or to expand their readers’ perception of “ghosts.” 

Fantasy (Supernatural)

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

YA – White Smoke

Jackson, Tiffany D. White Smoke. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-063-02909-5. 373 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Marigold’s blended family has just relocated from the sunny California coast to the run-down midwestern town of Cedarville. Their historic house, still under renovation, is part of her mother’s Grow Where You’re Planted residency with the Sterling Foundation. As the artist-in-residence, Raquel and her family will live in the home for free. Free housing means less debt, which is important after Mari’s recent stay at Strawberry Pines Rehabilitation Center. From the first page, it’s clear that she is facing real mental health challenges: programming medication reminders on her phone, repeating calming mantras, and obsessing about bedbugs. Meanwhile, Mari observes unexplained noises and disturbances in the house, including strange smells and items disappearing. The desolate neighborhood adds to the spooky ambiance. Jackson, a prolific and versatile author, is known for her real-life inspiration and plot twists. Indeed, many episodes in this haunted house story are based on real reported ghostly incidents. She also brings elements of a psychological thriller to her first horror novel. 

THOUGHTS: Spooky book season is here, and Jackson’s latest novel is almost too much fun to booktalk with students who enjoy suspenseful, scary stories.

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD