Did you think we were done with ghost stories just because October ended? Here are three more, all Cybils nominated.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. Read by Reba Buhr. Scholastic Audio, 2018.
Best-selling author Schwab turns here to middle grade for the first time. Twelve-year-old Cassidy’s parents (who are both white as far as I could tell) host a TV show called “Inspectres”, where they track down the stories behind suspected hauntings. What they don’t know is that unlike them, Cassidy been able to see ghosts since her near-drowning a year ago. She was only saved from the icy river by Jason, the ghost of a teen boy who is now her best friend. How creepy should we find this teen boy who is always with the almost-teen girl? When her parents take Cassidy with them to Edinburgh, she meets a girl, Laura Chaudary, who can also see ghosts and who is very suspicious of Jason, though not for the creepy reason that Charlotte (of Charlotte’s Library) and I discussed. This is pushed to the side, though, when a very real, very dangerous kidnapping ghost called the Raven in Red starts hunting Cassidy.
The Edinburgh setting is foggy and atmospheric, instantly recognizable. The creepiness is offset with plenty of humor verging on snark, as well as Cassidy’s Harry Potter love. It didn’t have quite the zing that Schwab’s other books have had for me, but is a fine choice for those who can’t find enough ghost stories.
When a Ghost Talks, Listen by Tim Tingle. Roadruner Press, 2018.
This is book 2 of the How I Became a Ghost series by Choctaw Nation member Tim Tingle. I confess that though I had heard of it, I did not read that book, dead children being a personal trigger. Our story is told here by 10-year-old Isaac, who died on the Trail of Tears. He’s following along and trying to help his family as they continue on the trail. There are more ghosts with him, including the five-year-old Nita, who rolled out of her blankets and froze one night, and for U.S. Army General Chief Pushmataha. Two living teens are also part of their small team – Joseph, who can also be a panther, and Naomi. In this book, Chief Pushmataha takes the kids back on multiple trips to witness the suspicious circumstances around his death in Washington, D.C., which preceded the Choctaw being forced out of their lands. These are purely educational, as they can’t affect the past. They are also trying to keep their families alive on the trail, which is a little more possible but still very difficult.
I was expecting this book to be very heavy and hard to read. Happily, there is lots of humor and emphasis on the importance of not being brought down by difficult events, which made it easier. I was uncomfortable, though, with frequent repetitions of ideas about Choctaw superiority: their smiles are bigger, their humor is better, their love is stronger, even as I respect that this people has survived despite incredible odds and active attempts at extermination. I also wish the kids had more agency in the story. Despite these difficulties, these are important books from a rarely-heard point of view that need to be more widely read.
A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander. Simon and Schuster Kids, 2018.
This book continues in September after the events of A Properly Unhaunted Place. Where once Ingot was famous for being the only town without ghosts, now it has lots and lots of ghosts, leaving both the living and formerly living residents very unhappy. The living blame Rosa for letting the ghosts in, and smash the lanterns set out to appease the spirits, hoping that will make them go away. Jasper, meanwhile, is busy at his parents’ Renaissance Faire site, where the spirits of the miners who used to work on the site are violently opposed to a history not their own being celebrated and make sure all repair efforts fail. His parents are clearly losing hope, with his father giving up his daily morning sword drills. (I really loved Jasper’s father.)
With everything so crazy, Rosa is shocked when her mother tells her that she’s going to start at fifth grade at the public. Being there partly to work as the appeasement expert for the large number of ghosts suddenly appearing there only partly makes up for being an even bigger target. The mayor’s two children are especially mean, and the girl, Bobbie, who turns out to be haunted by the ghost of her cruel grandmother. We learn more about the ongoing debate between those like Rosa and her mother who believe in remembering the dead (including how to deal with the bad ones like Bobbie’s grandmother) and those who think banishing and forgetting is better. A plot line about children poisoned by tainted water hit close to home. The book overall is feels like it’s moved up a grade with Rosa – a little more in depth, a touch longer (but not too long), the danger more personal, with growth in perceptiveness and abilities for both Rosa and Jasper. I still love these books and hope for more.
All of these books have been nominated for a Cybils award. These reviews reflect my opinion, not that of the judging panel.