Small Spaces Quartet #1

At night they will come for the rest of you. It’s with this ominous warning that eleven-year-old Ollie and her two friends, Coco and Brian, set out on a chilling adventure in the woods with nightfall fast descending and the ever-watchful eyes of scarecrows on their backs.

What began as an unremarkable school trip to a nearby farm soon becomes a frightening journey into the world behind the mist. In order to survive and not remain trapped there forever, Ollie and her friends need to be quick on their feet as they work to unravel a hundred-year-old mystery, save their classmates, and beat the villainous smiling man at his own game.

When night falls, Ollie and her friends must find small spaces to hide from the scarecrows, who follow the smiling man’s commands. During the daylight hours, the three friends search for a way back into their world. Along the way, they meet several ghosts, who were unwilling to leave their loved ones who the smiling man turned into scarecrows. However, before Ollie meets the ghosts, she finds Beth Webster’s book where she chronicled the story of her family and explains how the smiling man was able to turn her husband into a scarecrow.

Beth Webster’s story connects to Ollie’s own story. In Beth’s story, her mother-in-law was distraught over her son’s disappearance. In order to appease his grieving mother, Beth’s husband Johnathan makes a deal with the smiling man. The smiling man brings Johnathan’s brother back to life, but Johnathan then becomes the smiling man’s servant. Similar to Beth, Ollie is also grieving the loss of a loved one—her mother. However, Ollie doesn’t let her grief overshadow her life. When the smiling man offers to bring Ollie’s mom back to life, Ollie doesn’t accept the deal. Instead, she gives up the deepest desire of her heart in order to break the curse and restore her classmates.

While Small Spaces is predominantly a ghost story, it also touches on the theme of grief. Through her experiences, Ollie learns that her mother’s words and advice will continue to help her navigate life. Even though Ollie still grieves her mother’s loss, she is learning to find joy in life again.

Small Spaces will appeal to readers who want a creepy, scary story without bloodshed and gore. The easy-to-read story keeps readers on edge as the smiling man’s secrets are revealed. The story’s conclusion is a little confusing as it tries to piece together the stories of the past with the stories of the present.

While Ollie and her friends are not well-developed, they are an interesting group who learns to appreciate each other’s differences. If you’re looking for a fast-paced ghost story that will keep you guessing, then grab a copy of Small Spaces. Beware: when you get to the end, you will want to find out what happens in the next book, Dead Voices, in which Ollie and her friends get trapped in a haunted snow lodge.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After school, Mike takes Coco’s notebook and begins taunting her. When Brian does nothing to help Coco, Ollie threw a rock that “caught Brian squarely in the back of the head, dropped him thump onto the grass, and turned everyone’s attention from Coco Zinter to her.” Then Ollie gets on her bike and races home.
  • At the farm, the kids were going to learn about “slaughtering hogs (cut the throat and then hang it up to drain).”
  • Before the book begins, Ollie’s mother died in an airplane crash. “Ollie dreamed of the crash, even though she hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t seen the firs afterward, or the bits of broken plane stuck in a tree, the things that haunted her nightmare.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • The first time the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian asks, “What in hell was that?”

Supernatural

  • Ollie reads a book about a brother who makes a deal with the smiling man to bring his brother, Caleb, back to life. Caleb “came back. He was pale and blue-lipped; his eyes were strange and distant. . . It was his voice, his smile. Only the look in his eyes had changed, and he would not say where he was.”
  • Ollie’s teacher tells the class a story about the farm that the class will be visiting. The farm is rumored to be haunted because two brothers wanted to marry the same girl. The teacher says, “The younger brother disappeared. No one ever found traces of either of them. Eventually, the sheriff decided that the younger brother had killed the elder and then been overcome with remorse and thrown himself into the creek. That was when the rumors of hauntings started.”
  • In the past, there was a school at the farm. The schoolhouse “was burned to rubble, of course, right down to the foundation stones. . . The weird things is this: they never found any bodies.”
  • After Ollie’s mother dies, her father gives her her mother’s cracked watch. While running from the scarecrows, the watch gives her a countdown until sunset and tells her what to do. For example, “RUN” and “HIDE.” When Ollie whispers, “Mom? Is that you? Can you hear me?” The watch’s screen reads “ALWAYS.”
  • The scarecrows try to grab Ollie and her friends. They crawl into a small space under some rocks. “A nightmare face turned to Ollie: stitched-on snarl, eyes like two finger sized holes. The rake reached out again. . . A huge, straw-smelling arm thrust itself into the hole. . . Then the arm withdrew.” When the scarecrows realize they can’t reach the kids, they leave.
  • While running from the scarecrows, the kids go into a house where Ollie meets a ghost. Ollie discovers that two of the scarecrows are the ghost’s sons. When the kids leave the house, “Two scarecrows stood outside, one at each window. Somehow, they were not looking into the house anymore, but were watching the kids run, still smiling their wide smiles.”
  • Brian recognizes one of the scarecrows as his friend Phil. Brian says, “It’s wearing Phil’s clothes. Because that’s Phil’s hat and Phil’s hair and kind of Phil’s face—if it were sewn on.”
  • Ollie and her friends go into another house and Ollie sees a ghost. “A hand appeared on the doorframe. A thick, yellow-nail hand. Then a face popped around the edge of the doorframe. . . It was a woman. Or had been. Her skin was sunken in beneath the cheekbones, and when she smiled, her lips stretched too wide, the way a skull smiles.” The ghost tells her that the scarecrows are “neither flesh nor spirit” and that they are now the smiling man’s servants. The ghost says, “the cornfield is the doorway” to another world and the scarecrows hold the door between two worlds open.
  • While talking to the smiling man, Ollie figures out how to save her classmates. Ollie flings “a scattering of drops [of water] at the first scarecrow. . . the scarecrow screamed—a human scream.” The scarecrows that were from the past turned into dust but her classmates turned back into themselves.

Spiritual Content

  • After the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian says, “Deliver us from evil” and then did the sign of the cross. When Ollie and Coco look at him, he says, “I’m not a good Catholic but maybe God is listening.”

Much Ado About Baseball

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her.

Ben hasn’t played baseball in two years, and he doesn’t want to play now—but he has to, thanks to losing a bet with his best friend. Once Ben realizes Trish is on the team, he knows he can’t quit and be embarrassed by her again. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

Much Ado About Baseball is a fast-paced story that teaches about friendship and fitting in using baseball as a backdrop. The story is told from both Ben’s and Trish’s point of view. The alternating points of view allow readers to see how Ben and Trish struggle with conflicting emotions. Middle grade readers will relate to Ben and Trish, who both are trying to fit in with their new baseball team. While the two are often at odds, they learn to work together. As a result, Ben realizes that friendship is about “arranging things so they’re best for the group, and not just for one person.”

While the story has plenty of baseball action, math puzzles also take center stage. Readers will enjoy trying to solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed. In addition, Much Ado About Baseball has a Shakespeare quoting character and magical fairies that need a lesson in cooperation. By combining baseball, puzzles, and Shakespeare, LaRocca creates an imaginative and engaging story that is full of suspense. While the story focuses on friendship, it also shines a light on the importance of honesty and forgiveness. The story’s conclusion is a little too perfect and cheerful. Everything is wrapped up in a positive manner which causes the ending to sound a little preachy. Despite this, Much Ado About Baseball will appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans alike. If you’re looking for another book full of baseball excitement, grab a copy of Soar by Joan Bauer.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Several times someone is referred to as a jerk. For example, Trish thinks a boy is a jerk.
  • Heck is used occasionally.

Supernatural

  • Both Ben and Trish get a magical math puzzle book. When the right answer is written down, “the entire grid turned bright green. . . Then, under the puzzle, a sentence appeared.” The sentence gives help with a problem.
  • After using the magical math book, Ben tells the baseball where to go. The ball, “seemed to slow down. . . it was surrounded by sparkling green light.” Because of this, Ben is able to hit a home run.
  • Ben thinks eating the Salt Shaker snacks makes him better at baseball. His team eats the snacks before every game. “But the kids kept having weird reactions. . .breaking out in purple blotches that disappeared after a few minutes; hiccupping intermittently for an afternoon; even growing fuzzy hair on our forearms that resembled a donkey’s fur.”
  • In Ben and Trish’s world, fairies exist “as much as magic math books and lucky coins.”
  • Ben and Trish go to a part of the forest where fairies are. After a brief conversation, “The mouths surrounded us like a green cloud. When they finally flew away, we were back in my yard.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

Malamander

Twelve-year-old Herbie Lemon has always been fond of lost things. After all, as an infant, he was a “lost thing.” Herbie was found and given a home in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where he was eventually put in charge of the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. His job now is to keep track of every lost item in the hotel and, when possible, find its home.

One day, a new kind of lost thing arrives, inspiring quite an eventful case for the young detective-of-sorts. Violet Parma puts Herbie in charge of helping her track down her missing parents, who became “lost” when she was an infant while staying at the Grand Nautilus. Herbie reluctantly takes the case, and the pair works together, discovering that one legend from the town’s past may have more to do with the Parmas’ disappearance than they could have imagined.

The Parma mystery leads the duo to the malamander, a mythic creature that supposedly lives in the water surrounding Eerie-on-Sea. The malamander only comes inland once a year to lay its wish-granting egg. The power of the egg draws a variety of characters into the fray, including a gruff man with a boat hook for a hand. Herbie and Violet must consult the eclectic townspeople and watch their backs as they work to uncover the mysteries which are hidden in the mist of Eerie-on-Sea.

Taylor wonderfully builds the world of Eerie-on-Sea. From the very first chapter, it is clear Eerie-on-Sea is no ordinary island. It is home to ancient legends regarding the existence of sea monsters, which Herbie and Violet discover to be more fact than fiction. The legends– and the people who tell them– are enthralling, and each person is essential to the story being told. By the end of the novel, readers will feel as if they were on the island themselves.

Herbie is a loveable narrator who provides much needed information about the culture of Eerie-on-Sea. Herbie’s friendship with Violet also helps readers understand the mysteries of such a place. She is new to the island, as is the audience, allowing readers to identify with Violet as they learn about the stories which the townspeople know well. The balance between Herbie and Violet is engaging from their first meeting. Violet is a go-getter, who thinks quickly and is strong-willed. Herbie, while confident in some moments, is much quieter and cautious.

The malamander’s egg is central to many of the characters’ motivations, and Taylor’s story touches on the harmful nature of greed that has lasting effects it can have on others. For example, the legend of Captain K demonstrates how the captain’s desire for the egg causes his entire crew to be lost to the malamander. Captain K wishes for eternal life, and while he gets what he wished for, he becomes a shell of a man. Consequently, Captain K’s family spends generations trying to fix his mistakes. On the other hand, Herbie acts as a counter to this greed. Herbie’s job is dedicated to helping others find what they have lost. His decision to help Violet as well as his concern for the townspeople teach readers that selflessness and caring for others can lead to happiness.

The author occasionally uses advanced vocabulary, but the context clues provided make Malamander a good option for children looking to learn new words. Black and white illustrations bring the quirky characters to life; the illustrations are used periodically to aid in the visualization of some of the more significant moments in the story. Young readers who love mysteries and myths will enjoy Malamander as the story creates an interesting setting that has endearing characters and a gripping plot.

Sexual Content

  • Mrs. Fossil, a beachcomber, thinks she has some “beach finds” which would “suit a young man looking for something for that special someone in his life.” She assumes Violet and Herbie are romantically involved.
  • After hugging Herbie, Violet “looks a bit embarrassed and tries to hide it by punching [Herbie] on the arm.”

Violence

  • A man has a “large iron boat hook, ending in a long gleaming spike” for a hand. He is called “Boat Hook Man.”
  • When the Boat Hook Man comes looking for Violet in Herbie’s Lost-and-Foundery, he “shoves [Herbie] against the wall as he pushes past.”
  • Boat Hook Man uses his hook to break into the chest where Violet is hiding. “He raises his spike and brings it down with a sickening thud, driving it deep into the lid of the chest.” When he cannot find her, Herbie says the Boat Hook Man “[goes] berserk.” Herbie narrates, “He starts ransacking my cellar, sweeping his massive arms from side to side.”
  • Violet’s history becomes a large part of the story. She was “found abandoned” as a baby. Her parents left behind only “two pairs of shoes . . . left neatly on the harbor wall.” There were also “footprints in the sand, leading from the harbor wall to the sea.”
  • Herbie’s cap almost never cooperates when he tries to put it on his head. At one point he narrates “the elastic strap pings and nearly takes [his] eye out.”
  • Violet tells Herbie that “a fork bounced off the wall behind [her]” when she ran out of the hotel kitchen, where she was not supposed to be. Herbie knows that these were the actions of the head chef who “guards his kitchen like a fortress.”
  • In Herbie’s lost and found system, if red lines are crossing out a name, that means “the owners were declared dead.” Violet’s parents’ entry is crossed out in red, and Herbie apologizes while giving Violet her parents’ lost belongings.
  • Herbie teases his boss, Mr. Mollusc, to the point that he “is close to bursting a blood vessel.”
  • While walking with Violet, Herbie mentally describes how “the snow is like a swarm of icy bees—stinging [their] eyes and trying to get up [their] noses.”
  • Herbie fears he may have seen “a shadow stepping back into a doorway” when he checks to see if he and Violet are being followed.
  • While eating at the diner, Herbie notes, “Outside, where the sea mist is gathering, someone screams.” Herbie and Violet see Boat Hook Man head for the beach, “his long, hooked spike dangling like a weapon.” However, they never find out where he was going, because instead they find Mrs. Fossil, a townsperson, “clutching one arm and sobbing with pain.” Her clothes are “torn to shreds” and “there are angry red marks on her skin.” She had been bit by something with what she calls “teeth like needles.” She passes out.
  • Boat Hook Man sees Violet on the beach and “grabs Violet by her collar, lifting her in the air.” She has a hard time speaking because of where he grabbed her. She is left “clutching her throat.”
  • Herbie says, “I need to get some work done, or Mollusc will have me stewed and served up as today’s special.”
  • Mrs. Fossil receives treatment for her wound and reports that she “can already move [her] fingers again.”
  • Mrs. Fossil tells the children about the legend of the malamander. She says the creature lays an egg and then “devours it.” Since the egg has the power to grant wishes, she explains, many people have sought it. However, she tells them, “Every single one of them . . . gobbled up by the beastie!”
  • Herbie points out “all that’s left of the battleship Leviathan” is in the sea. He says, “It was wrecked years ago.”
  • Boat Hook Man corners Herbie and Violet in the fish shed. They try to escape using a rope, by jumping from the window to a suspended fishing net. Herbie misses the first opportunity for release and is left “dangling, four stories up.” He thinks, “At this point, I can let go of the rope and probably break both my legs, or I can stay dangling where I am and be filleted like a small lemon-flavored herring in a Lost-and-Foundery’s cap.”
  • Just before Boat Hook Man can use his hook to capture Herbie, Violet “strikes Boat Hook Man in the eye” with her book. Violet and Herbie manage to escape, but they fall before they get all the way to the ground. Herbie notes “the air escaping from [his] lungs with an OOF.” Violet hurts her ankle on impact and needs help running away. This event is described over four pages.
  • Jenny, the bookstore owner, explains how Sebastian Eels and Violet’s father knew each other. They were both authors interested in the malamander, and at one point “they went monster hunting together.”
  • The malamander comes to the museum when Herbie and Violet are there. It “slaps the window right in front of us with such force that it shatters.” Herbie feels “points of pain on my hands and face as the pieces cut in.” Then, the creature tries to “throw itself over the edge” of the museum walls, but Violet grabs its tail. Herbie thinks, “All I can see is that if Violet doesn’t let go, she’ll be pulled over the ramparts too, down onto the toothlike steeples of Maw Rocks, far below.”
  • When trying to save Violet, Herbie is dragged hard against the wall.” He cannot yell, because he feels “the air being crushed out of [his] lungs.” When the creature strikes Violet with its tail, they let go and the malamander falls. Herbie expects “to hear a thud, and maybe the crunch of breaking bone” but the creature simply slithers back to the ocean. This encounter is described over two pages.
  • When Herbie and Violet are caught in the museum by its owner, Dr. Thalassi, Herbie notices, “The folded umbrella [the owner] brandished as a weapon is on the desk, too, like a polite threat.”
  • In anger, Dr. Thalassi attempts to justify his luring of the malamander, which caused the attack on Violet. Herbie exclaims, “An experiment that just slashed off half of Vi’s face!” Herbie knows it’s “an exaggeration” but she was injured by the creature.
  • The museum owner tells the story of the Leviathan and its Captain. The captain led his crew into a cavern where “they found a great stinking mound of seaweed, bones, and shipwreck salvage.” They found the malamander and took its egg, causing it to attack the ship. Dr. Thalassi says, “Many lives were lost defending Leviathan against the creature.” Despite the crew’s use of weapons, the monster kept attacking. Dr. Thalassi explains, “Bullets sparked off its scales, leaving scarcely a mark, and its claws could rend iron.”
  • While the Captain was holding the egg, the malamander “delivered a . . . good, hard bite, which injected stinging venom” that numbed the captain. Then, the creature “with a single snap of its jaws tore his right hand—the hand that held the malamander egg—clean off and swallowed it whole.” The story is recounted in seven pages.
  • Herbie notices in the museum, “Above us the skeleton of a whale hangs suspended, and in the cabinets all around, stuffed and desiccated sea creatures peer out at us through glass eyes.”
  • The hotel’s owner, Lady Kraken, says, “I have no doubt [Violet’s dad] wanted the egg, too, and no doubt that the malamander devoured him for his trouble.”
  • Sebastian Eels plans to carry a weapon to confront the malamander. He claims it “will be for protection only, to scare it away if I’m seen.”
  • When Boat Hook Man is arguing with Eels, Eels says, “Don’t you wave that hook at me.” Boat Hook Man then warns Eels that the malamander will kill him if he goes after its egg. Later, Herbie watches as “Eels brings his fist down on the desk.”
  • Sebastian Eels’ plan for the malamander is to “put a dozen harpoons through its stinking fish guts before it can even spit.” If people come to stop him, he will do the same to them. Eels says, “the sea will quickly dispose of the bodies.”
  • While hiding from Sebastian Eels and Boat Hook Man in Eels’ home, Herbie and Violet are caught. Boat Hook Man goes after them, using his hook as a weapon, though he misses Herbie by inches. Erwin the cat protects them by “attacking the old mariner’s head ferociously, raking at [Boat Hook Man] with his claws.” Herbie watches as “instead of blood, only water spouts from the wounds.”
  • Herbie narrates, “the poor cat is flung to one side” by Boat Hook Man. When trying to escape the building, Sebastian Eels uses his harpoon gun multiple times on the children with one missing and “ricocheting back . . . and clonking Boat Hook Man in the face” causing him to fall. He is not fully human, though, so he is not injured when he hits the ground. Another harpoon makes its target, Violet. The harpoon hit the book in Violet’s pocket, narrowly saving her life. The incident occurs over six pages.
  • Herbie says of Eels, “hopefully the big bully will get himself eaten by the monster.”
  • Eels steals an important paper from Violet. When she tries to fight back, “he picks her up with one hand and throws her out of his way.” Erwin comes to the rescue, “hissing as he claws up [Eels’] legs and sinks his teeth into the man’s hand, making him drop the paper.”
  • Eels throws the cat away, and the cat “hits the corner of a bookshelf and . . . falls limply to the ground.” Eels then “brings his fist down on [Herbie’s] head.” This event is described in one page.
  • Eels retells the story of Achilles and the “arrow in the heel that brought about his death.”
  • Violet says to Eels, “I hope the malamander bites your head off.”
  • Eels promises to “wipe [Violet] out of existence and end [her] misery for good” with the power of the malamander egg.
  • Violet discusses the legend of the malamander, including its annual move “near the town to hunt” and lay its egg, which it then “devours.”
  • Aboard the Leviathan, Herbie thinks, “I shrink back into the darkness, still pulled by Violet, desperately hoping it is Violet pulling me and not some flubbery faceless horror from the deep.” Later, he sees actual sea creatures around him and kicks them off.
  • Herbie observes the malamander open “its cavernous tooth-needle mouth and roars an earsplitting, soul-tearing, nightmarish cry of saurian fury.” This is followed by the creature charging the pair. Herbie wonders “if it’s worth fighting for a moment or two of extra life, or if it’s better to just fall down into the water and hope the end comes quickly.” He then remembers Eels’ comment about bodies being disposed by the sea and thinks it could be true, “especially if the bodies are quite small — and devoured by a folkloric fish man in the belly of a sunken warship.” The malamander passes them over in its search for Eels.
  • Herbie sees “human bones” in the malamander’s nest.
  • Eels threatens to shoot Violet with the harpoon gun but does not.
  • In a flashback to Violet’s parents’ disappearance, her dad comes to believe that Eels could be responsible for the infant Violet’s disappearance. He says to his wife, “He said I’d pay a heavy price if I kept my discoveries from him. But surely he wouldn’t . . .”
  • Eels tries to get the egg from Violet. Eels “grabs the egg with one hand and punches Violet in the face with the other.” She falls into the cold water. Herbie dives in after her and wonders “for a moment if I’ve died without noticing” due to the “cold and dark.” When he finds her, “she gasps and coughs.”
  • The malamander resurfaces. “In its claws it is holding the broken body of Boat Hook Man.” Herbie recognizes Boat Hook Man is not dead, but “he has clearly lost the fight with the monster” as his “face is white and awful”.
  • The malamander tries to get its egg back from Eels, but he “shoots it” first. He repeatedly fires and Herbie hears the “th-TOUM” sound the gun makes. Herbie then sees that “the harpoon has buried itself deep between two of the monster’s scales, where — now that we look closely — a slim opening in its armor can be seen.” This opening is the only way the malamander can be killed. The malamander has been shot “straight through its heart” and “with a gurgling sigh, the malamander twitches one last time and then goes still.”
  • After Boat Hook Man was attacked by the malamander, Herbie describes that the creature’s victim “looks awful, his twisted body half submerged, his skin raked over with great gashes and slashes.”
  • Boat Hook Man tells Eels about his pursuit of the egg. He says, “I lost everything — my ship, my fine men, even my family, in the end.”
  • Eels uses the egg to transform malamander into a tentacle-ridden sea creature to restrain Boat Hook Man. “As we watch, the scaly corpse of the monster quivers and splits, and dozens of fleshy tendrils shoot up from it.” Eels then magically replaces Boat Hook Man’s hook with a crab pincer. Boat Hook Man uses it “to cut through one of the tentacles holding him by using his new claw.” In response, Eels turns Boat Hook Man “into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Trying to get the egg away from Eels, Violet shoves him. She then “lands a kick in the man’s face.” Eels tries to shoot Violet at “point-blank range” but there are no harpoons, so it only makes a “fut! Fut!” sound. When Violet gets the egg, Eels pulls “his knife from its sheath.”
  • Eels gets the egg back, but the malamander’s “mouth, lined as before with tooth needles, closes with a sickening crunch over the hand that holds the egg.” The monster drags him under the water and “there’s a ripple or two . . . then there’s nothing”. The entire fight between the malamander, Herbie, Violet, Eels, and Boat Hook Man aboard the Leviathan takes place over 30 pages.
  • Herbie thinks he has drowned aboard the Leviathan. He thinks, “It’s not cold, though, so I guess being as dead as driftwood has an upside.” However, Herbie is warm because he was rescued. He feels the effects of nearly drowning, his “chest and throat feel as if they’re on fire”.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mrs. Fossil explains that the town doctor has prevented her from “languishing in a hospital bed somewhere, pumped full of goodness-knows-what.”
  • Violet’s cut is treated with “a wad of cotton, soaked in disinfectant.”
  • In Eels’ house, Herbie sees “an empty bottle of whiskey” on the floor near Violet. She insists she did not drink it and asks him, “Do you think I drink whiskey?”

Language

  • Many of the characters use names such as weasel, fool, stupid, and creep. For example, Herbie calls Mollusc a horrible, hideous man, though not to his face.
  • Herbie narrates that “Lady Kraken is almost a recluse.” Herbie thinks, “The way her wrinkly head emerges from her sumptuous silky gown reminds me of a turtle.” He watches her “clawlike hand” and “wizened eye.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie an “incorrigible dunderbrain.” She also asks if he has “cloth for brains.”
  • Lady Kraken exclaims, “Curse the clouds!”
  • Violet refers to the mermonkey cards as “freaky” and “weird.”
  • Herbie mentally describes the mermonkey as “grotesque” and “ugly.”
  • Violet thinks Eels looks “booky” and he gives her the creeps. Herbie calls him “a bit full of himself.”
  • Mrs. Fossil collects “coprolite” which she explains is “doodah…dino turd…petrified poo.”
  • Herbie thinks Boat Hook Man is an “awful man” and “freaky.”
  • Herbie calls Mollusc “old Mollusc breath.” He then refers to him as “that whiny old whinge-bag.”
  • The characters occasionally “swear” to show honesty. Jenny says Violet’s father “swore blind that he saw things” that were supposed to be only legend, not real.
  • Herbie often internally describes the museum owner as having a “Julius Caesar nose” or a “beaky nose.”
  • Mrs. Fossil uses the expression “goodness-knows-what.”
  • Herbie uses the expression “bladderwracks” occasionally.
  • Eels calls himself “just an old daydreamer” in a disparaging way.
  • Eels uses the expression, “Goodness me.”
  • Herbie calls Eels “Eel Face” in conversation with Violet.
  • Violet asks Herbie if he thought Jenny was a bit “shifty.”
  • Herbie calls himself a “ninny.”
  • Herbie says that he and Violet are “freezing [their] cockles off.”
  • In the story of Captain K, the captain calls his men “cowards” for wanting “to turn back.” They later plead, “for the love of grog, give it back its egg!”
  • The captain calls the malamander “just a dumb animal” and a “fiendish creature.”
  • Herbie calls an action in the story of Captain K “bonkers.” The museum owner agrees and says the captain was “drunk with power.”
  • After his encounter with the malamander, the captain is described as becoming “a ruin of a man, ranting and raving.”
  • Herbie asks himself, “How could I have been so stupid?”
  • Lady Kraken calls the museum owner “sly” and Violet “that sneaky little friend of yours.”
  • Damned is used occasionally. For example, Eels says, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that bleeding-heart Peter stand in my way, even from beyond the grave.”
  • Eels tells Boat Hook Man, “It’s not my fault you didn’t have the wit or the will to use the egg properly.”
  • Eels calls the behavior of the malamander “pathetic” and asks, “doesn’t it just make you want to puke?” He also adds, “But also, how very unsurprising that a softy like Peter Parma would be the one to discover such a ridiculous fact.”
  • Herbie assumes Eels believes “no one in their right mind would crawl into such a small and dismal hole.”
  • Hell is used several times. For example, Herbie calls the shipwreck “watery hell.”
  • Violet’s dad uses the expression “dear gods.”
  • Eels calls Violet “wretched, unimaginative child” and “as weak and pathetic as [her] father.”

Supernatural

  • The legend of the malamander is central to the story. According to the townspeople’s beliefs, “It’s a monstrous creature — half man, half fish, half goodness-knows-what” with “rows of quivering spines.” The creature lays a “magical egg” once a year. The egg’s abilities are described as the “grants-you-your-dearest-wish kind.”
  • The malamander can climb walls and swim very well, as well as survive long falls. The malamander “was not invincible . . . it could be killed” by attacking the small opening to its heart. Eels says, “the monster opens its heart when it lays its egg. Quite literally — the armored plates over its heart fold back so that its beatings can be heard in the ocean. That’s how it calls its mate.”
  • The book dispensary has an animatronic mermonkey, a monkey that “has the lower body of a fish” and dispenses the identification code for a book that it feels the reader needs. Jenny, who owns the dispensary says, “It’s the book that chooses you.” Herbie also tells Violet that many believe the machine to have “a sense of humor, too” because Herbie “met a man once who swears he belched in front of the mermonkey and got dispensed a copy of Gone with the Wind.
  • Lady Kraken, the hotel owner, has a mechanism called a “cameraluna” which uses the moon to project “a moving image of the pier at Eerie-on-Sea, seen from above.” She uses it to spy on the townspeople in real time. She can also reverse the recordings, making the “little figures of the townsfolk dart around, walking backward at high speed, as if [Herbie and Lady Kraken] are going back in time.”
  • Herbie explains that the rumor is that the diner owner “came here as a young man and saw a mermaid from the end of the pier. Heard her sing. No one ever recovers from that.”
  • The cat, Erwin, speaks occasionally.
  • The egg can vaguely communicate telepathically with its holder. “In the captain’s wondering mind, a thousand voices seemed to whisper as one: I can make your dreams come true.”
  • Captain K, also known as Boat Hook Man, wished to “live forever” and the egg granted that wish. The egg responds, “But if you lose [the egg], your wish shall become your curse.” Captain K’s “wounds closed up as soon as they opened, and his injuries healed.”
  • Boat Hook Man exists today as half-man, half-water. He arrives in the form of a “cloud of mist” which gathers into a shape.
  • The egg’s power is used multiple times by Eels and Violet. Violet uses it to see her parents’ disappearance in a mist “like a tornado,” which displays images and sound. In addition, the mist “encircles” Boat Hook Man and transforms him into his former self, Captain K. “The boat hook on the end of his right arm evaporates, and a new hand appears there, pink and perfect.”
  • Eels uses the egg to replace Captain K’s hook with a “red crab pincer” and then turns the malamander body into multiple sea creatures. “Captain Kraken’s body trembles and ripples, then collapses into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Violet then uses the egg to make the malamander “miraculously whole again,” raising it from the dead.

Spiritual Content

  • The diner owner says, “In my country, we leave gifts for beings like this, for spirits. Offerings. At night, when I close up, I, too, leave gifts — the fried fish that is left over — outside on the pier. In the morning, it is gone.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

Breaking Dawn

In Part One of Breaking Dawn, Bella thinks she has her happily-ever-after when she and Edward are married. But halfway through their honeymoon, Bella realizes she is pregnant. A child between a human and a vampire is supposed to be impossible, yet Bella’s pregnancy progresses at an abnormal rate. As the creature inside her threatens her life, Edward is prepared to get it out of her at all costs. But to Bella, this isn’t a monster growing inside her, but a beautiful child. With Rosalie on her side, Bella is determined to have her baby at any cost. Even if that cost is her life.

 Part Two is told from Jacob’s perspective. Jacob never expected to see Bella again—not while she was human. When she returns from her honeymoon with a story about catching a rare disease, Jacob assumes she has become a vampire. Looking for a fight, he goes to the Cullen’s house, only to realize the reality is more horrible than he could ever imagine. Suddenly he finds himself protecting Bella—and the Cullens—against his own pack. But even if Bella and her child survive the pregnancy, this hybrid child may be the only excuse the Volturi need to come and destroy the Cullens. Told again from Bella’s point of view, Part Three ends this exciting quartet.

 Breaking Dawn is a satisfying ending to the Twilight series. Readers will swoon over Bella and Edward’s wedding, and ache for the difficulties that follow. As Jacob fights to protect Bella, he will break the hearts of readers on Team Jacob and threaten to steal the hearts of those on Team Edward. And as the Volturi draw nearer, an entire host of new vampires are introduced in a delightful way.

Breaking Dawn has a lighter tone than the previous books, as Bella thinks she’s finally getting her happily-ever-after. However, danger isn’t done with her yet. While the suspense is lighter in this installment, there are plenty of interesting developments to keep readers engaged. An increase in sexual content and a graphic C-section may unsettle younger readers, but Breaking Dawn ends a whirlwind quartet with several satisfying twists and unexpected turns.

Sexual Content

  • Bella wants to sleep with Edward before she turns into a vampire, because she is worried she will not want Edward in the same way afterward, and she doesn’t want to lose that human experience. “I wanted the complete experience before I traded in my warm, breakable, pheromone-riddled body for something beautiful, strong . . . and unknown. I wanted a real honeymoon with Edward. And, despite the danger he feared this would put me in, he’d agreed to try.”
  • Bella and Edward make out often. On one occasion, Bella “ran [her] hand down his stone chest now, tracing across the flat planes of his stomach, just marveling. A light shudder rippled through him, and his mouth found mine again. Carefully, I let the tip of my tongue press against his glass-smooth lip, and he sighed. His sweet breath washed—cold and delicious—over my face.”
  • Another time, Bella “clutched [her] arms around his neck again and locked [her] mouth with his feverishly. It wasn’t desire at all—it was need, acute to the point of pain.”
  • Bella and Edward have sex multiple times on their honeymoon, but the sex is not described.
  • Edward asked his father what it was like to have sex as a vampire. “Carlisle told me it was a very powerful thing, like nothing else. He told me physical love was something I should not treat lightly. . . I spoke to my brothers, too. They told me it was a very great pleasure. Second only to drinking human blood.”
  • Edward accidentally bruises Bella all over her body the first time they have sex. Afterwards, he says, “I will not make love with you until you’ve been changed. I will never hurt you again.” After that, he keeps Bella, “busy, distracted, so that [Bella] wouldn’t continue badgering him about the sex thing.
  • Bella is willing to stay human longer because she doesn’t want to give up her physical relationship with Edward. Edward says, “Sex was the key all along? Why didn’t I think of that? I could have saved myself a lot of arguments. . . You are so human.”
  • Bella’s period is late. “There was no way I could be pregnant. The only person I’d ever had sex with was a vampire, for crying out loud.” Then she remembers old vampire legends. “They mostly seemed like excuses dreamed up to explain things like infant mortality rates—and infidelity. No honey, I’m not having an affair! That sexy woman you saw sneaking out of the house was an evil succubus. I’m lucky I escaped with my life! . . . There had been one for the ladies, too. How can you accuse me of cheating on you—just because you’ve come home from a two-year sea voyage and I’m pregnant? It was the incubus.
  • When thinking about Bella and Edward’s honeymoon, Jacob thinks “maybe [Edward]’d smashed her like a bag of chips in his drive to get some.”
  • The Cullens had no idea a male vampire could get a human woman pregnant. Edward says, “They’re out there, the sadistic ones, the incubus, the succubus. They exist. But the seduction is merely a prelude to the feast. No one survives.”
  • Edward is worried that carrying his child will kill Bella. He is willing to let her have a child by Jacob if she wants a baby so badly. When Edward asks Jacob, Jacob says, “How? By offering my stud services?” Jacob thinks, “Wrong. Sick. Borrowing Bella for the weekends and then returning her Monday morning like a rental movie? So messed up. So tempting.”
  • Wolves’ clothes do not morph with them. “Nudity was an inconvenient but unavoidable part of pack life. We’d all thought nothing of it before Leah came along. Then it got awkward. Leah had average control when it came to her temper—it took her the usual length of time to stop exploding out of her clothes every time she got pissed. We’d all caught a glimpse. And it wasn’t like she wasn’t worth looking at; it was just that it was so not worth it when she caught you thinking about it later.”
  • During her emergency C-section, “Bella was on a table . . . skin ghostly in the spotlight.” Jacob thinks, “How many times had I imagined her naked? Now I couldn’t look. I was afraid to have these memories in my head.”
  • After Bella becomes a vampire, she and Edward kiss several times. “It was like he’d never kissed me—like this was our very first kiss . . . my breathing sped, raced as fast as it had when I was burning. This was a different kind of fire.”
  • After she turns into a vampire, Bella and Edward make love several times. “My skin was so sensitive under his hands, too. He was all new, a different person as our bodies tangled gracefully into one on the sand-pale floor. No caution, no restraint . . . We laugh together, and the motion of our laughter did interesting things to the way our bodies were connected, effectively ending that conversation.”

Violence

  • Bella has a nightmare where she sees a child in danger. “I sprinted toward the boy. Only to stagger to a halt as I got a clear view of the hillock that he sat upon. It was not earth and rock, but a pile of human bodies, drained and lifeless . . . and directly beneath the adorable boy were the bodies of my father and my mother.”
  • Jacob fights with his packmates a lot, all of whom heal extremely quickly since they are werewolves. In one fight Jacob “lunged. His nose made a very satisfying crunching sound of its own when my fist connected.”
  • When Jacob is depressed, he wonders, “Would a bullet through my temple actually kill me or just leave a really big mess for me to clean up?”
  • When something goes wrong with the pregnancy, “Bella screamed. It was not just a scream, it was a blood-curdling shriek of agony. The horrifying sound cut off with a gurgle, and her eyes rolled back into her head. Her body twitched, arched in Rosalie’s arms, and then Bella vomited a fountain of blood.”
  • Bella has a graphic C-section, during which Edward cuts the baby out with his teeth. Rosalie’s “hand came down on Bella’s stomach, and vivid red spouted out from where she pierced the skin . . . another shattering crack inside [Bella’s] body . . . her legs, which had been curled up in agony, now went limp . . . I glanced over to see Edward’s face pressed against the bulge. Vampire teeth—a surefire way to cut through vampire skin.”
  • Transforming into a vampire is extremely painful. Bella is given morphine, which paralyzes her but does nothing to ease the pain. She thinks, “If I couldn’t scream, how could I tell them to kill me? All I wanted was to die. To never have been born. The whole of my existence did not outweigh this pain. Wasn’t worth living through it for one more heartbeat. Let me die, let me die, let me die.”
  • Caius, one of the Volturi, slaps a vampire named Irina. “Caius closed the distance between them and slapped her across the face. It couldn’t have hurt, but there was something terribly degrading about the action.”
  • Bella hunts and kills several deer and a mountain lion. “My teeth unerringly sought his throat, and his instinctive resistance was pitifully feeble against my strength . . . my teeth were steel razors; they cut through the fur and fat and sinews like they weren’t there.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bella is given morphine when she transforms into a vampire. It is supposed to numb the pain, but it fails.

Language

  • Pissed is used several times. For example, Bella says, “I’m sort of pissed, actually.”
  • Damn and dammit are used often. For example, when Bella thinks she has food poisoning, she says, “Damn rancid chicken.”
  • Leah and Bella both call Jacob a moron.
  • Hell is used often. When Edward says Jacob has to do something, Jacob says, “The hell I do.” Another time, Jacob tells a packmate “Oh yes you are the hell going to stand behind Sam!”
  • Crap is used often. Once, Jacob asks Edward, “Where is this psycho crap coming from?”
  • Jacob calls vampires parasites and blood suckers.
  • Shut up is used often.
  • Jacob calls someone an idiot.

Supernatural

  • A legend of the indigenous Quileute people “claims that [they] descended from wolves – and that the wolves are our brothers still.” Some members of the tribe are able to transform into wolves.
  • Edward and his family are vampires. Unlike most vampires, Edward and his family survive off the blood of animals, so they do not have to murder people.
  • Some vampires have special abilities. Edward can read minds; his brother Jasper can control the emotions of those around him; his sister Alice can see bits and pieces of the future.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

 

Clap When You Land

Camino and Yahaira’s lives are turned upside down when they hear the news, “There have been no survivors found from flight 1112.”

Sixteen-year-old Yahaira lives in New York with her mother and father. Every year, her father returns to his home country – the Dominican Republic. This summer, he was on flight 1112. After Yahaira is told her father died in a plane crash, she is devastated by the news and weighed down by a secret – her father had a wife and a child in the Dominican Republic.

 Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. After Camino’s mother died, her father moved to New York. Camino’s father returns to the Dominican Republic every summer to spend time with her. Camino is crushed by the loss of her father and the discovery that he had another child, Yahaira, in New York.

Camino works with her aunt as a traditional healer and had aspirations of joining her father in New York to study medicine and become a doctor. Her father pays a local sex trafficker to leave Camino alone so she can focus on her schoolwork. Without her father funding this and her private education, she feels as though her dreams are now out of reach.

Clap When You Land follows Camino and Yahaira on their journey to discover how their lives are interconnected and what it means to be family. They both feel betrayed by their father’s secrets and must learn to cope with the aftermath. Camino and Yahaira learn the world is not always black and white, that maybe their father truly loved both of them. Yahaira comes to terms with her father’s deception saying, “I know now, Papi could not move between two families. When he was here – he was mine, when he was there, he was theirs.”

This spellbinding novel follows the two girls on the cusp of adulthood. Both girls must learn to deal with life’s challenges. Yahaira navigates life in New York as a lesbian, while Camino learns how to follow her dreams despite her circumstances. Clap When You Land will help readers understand the grieving process and how to cope with an immense loss.

The narration is provided in prose, switching between Camino and Yahaira’s voices which provides multiple perspectives on how loss can change someone. Camino and Yahaira’s relationship provides a valuable perspective on sexual assault and what it means to be a survivor. Camino and Yahaira find comfort in leaning on each other as they deal with the emotional and physical trauma they have suffered.

In addition, Clap When You Land discusses health disparities that exist both in the Dominican Republic and in the United States, providing important commentary on health inequities throughout the world. High school-aged readers will find Camino’s and Yahaira’s journey entertaining and captivating. The two young women are relatable characters who impart valuable life lessons.

 Sexual Content

  • As Camino walks to school, she sees “the working girls I once went to school with.” She is referring to girls who had to drop out of school to become sex workers.
  • Camino discusses how her father didn’t need to be strict with her because “I don’t mess with dudes from the barrio who love gossip at the domino bars about the girls that they’ve slept with.” Camino only flirted with the American boys from her school, but “not because they’re cute or interesting – they’re often obnoxious and only want a taste of my gutter-slick tongue and brownness; they act as if they could elevate my life with a taste of their powder-milk-tinged pomp.”
  • Camino discusses the neighborhood sex trafficker saying, “El Cero always gets a first taste of the girls who work for him. Before he gussies them up and takes them by the resort beach in cut-off tanks and short shorts so the men from all over the world who come here for sun and sex can give thumbs-up or -down to his wares.”
  • Yahaira reminisces about when she and her girlfriend, Dre, were intimate for the first time. Yahaira thinks, “The first time Dre touched me without our clothes on, she kept running her hand from waist to hip. And I wanted to write Miami a thank-you text, for giving my body a spot that was made to nest Dre’s head in.”
  • Yahaira describes Dre as saying, “If you tell a dirty joke, Dre will talk about plants that pollinate themselves. If you talk about hoeing around, you’d see Dre blink as her mind goes down a long winding path of tilling dirt.”
  • Camino is worried about El Cero, the local sex trafficker. She thinks, “Even the women, girls like me, our mothers and tias, our bodies are branded jungle gyms. Men with accents pick us as if from a brochure to climb and slide and swing.”
  • Yahaira was sexually assaulted on the train. She says, “When I felt a squeeze on my leg I thought it was an accident and when I felt fingers float up my thighs I thought I must be mistaken and when he palmed me under my skirt openhanded I dropped my trophy but did not scream, did not make a scene did not curse him out there was no strategy no alternate plan no way to win, there was just me stuck, and being felt up on a public train.”
  • Camino said her aunt always answered her questions, “whether it was about sex, or boys, healing or the Saints.”

Violence

  • When Camino learns that no one survived the plane crash, she thinks, “A body means there is no miracle to hope for; dead is dead is dead.”
  • Dre plays Nina Simone’s music when she is dealing with difficult events. Yahaira says, “She will play her when we see videos on social media of another black boy shot, another black girl pulled over, another kid in the Bronx stabbed outside the Bodega. Dre plays Nina when two girls holding hands are jumped.”
  • Yahaira’s mother won’t let her see her father’s remains because “the airline representative mails us a catalog of all the bits of cloth, and bone, and hair, and suitcase things that probably belong to my father.”
  • When a man sexually assaults Camino, she desperately thinks, “kick him back scratch at the eyes mouth open cry cry cry for help.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Camino frequently smokes cigars. “I lift my mouth to the cigar. Inhale. Hold the smoke hard in my lungs until the pain squeezes sharp in my chest.”
  • Camino’s aunt “hauls the honeyed rum.”
  • When they are making an offering to Camino’s dead parents, Camino and her aunt have a drink. “We pour a bit of homemade mamjuana into the water, and Tia doesn’t even stop me when I take a sip from the bottle. I am feeling guilty.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, after Yahaira’s coach calls to give her condolences. Yahaira thinks, “Who knew death must be so damn polite?”
  • Fuck is used sparingly. For example, Camino described how her house was blessed by saints, but “a lot of people don’t fuck with that kind of thing here.”
  • When walking down the street, Yahaira avoids “dog shit.”
  • Yahaira is planning on flying to the Dominican Republic to attend her father’s funeral even though “Miami is dead-ass serious that she isn’t going to the DR funeral.”
  • A man calls Camino an “uppity, ugly bitch.”

Supernatural

  • Yahaira asks Camino if she believes in ghosts. Camino answers, “Of courses, I believe in ghosts. There are spirits everywhere.”
  • Yahaira describes the alter in Camino’s home. “Miami and I have been ignoring the alter in the corner. I don’t know much about Saints or ancestors, only the rumors of sacrificing chickens and how it all relates to voodoo.”
  • Camino and her aunt are traditional healers and frequently call upon spirits. The townspeople say Camino’s aunt “has the Saint’s ear.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

Remarkables

One minute, they’re laughing and having fun at the house next door. The next minute, they’re gone. Like magic. Marin can’t believe her eyes. Who are these teenagers, and how are they able to appear and disappear?

Marin spots the mysterious neighbors the first day after moving to a new house, in a new town. She wonders if she’s the only one who can see the teenagers, but then she meets a boy named Charley, who reluctantly reveals that he knows about them too. He calls them “Remarkables.”

Charley warns her to stay away from the Remarkables—and to stay away from him. Life hasn’t been kind to Charley, and Marin can’t stop thinking about something that happened in her old town. Could the Remarkables help? Or. . . is she supposed to help them? Maybe Marin and Charley can fix everything if they can work together long enough to figure out the mystery of the Remarkables.

Full of mystery, Remarkables is a story about family, friendship, and forgiveness. Readers will relate to the protagonist Marin, who is insecure and wonders if she will be able to make friends in her new town. Because of past friendship drama, Marin wonders if there is something wrong with her. However, by the end of the story, she realizes the importance of communication and forgiveness.

Haddix expertly weaves several plot lines into an easy-to-understand, engaging story. Marin’s family is funny, caring, and a bit overwhelmed with all the changes in their lives. When Marin meets Charley, she learns about a tragic accident that happened in the past and how it still impacts Charley’s present. This connects with an incident that happened to Marin before her move. The conclusion of the story merges all of these subplots and shows that “You can have a good future because the past is over. All you can do is learn from it.”

Remarkables will make readers consider the questions: If you could go back in time and change an event, what would it be? Both Marin and Charley consider the question, and they realize that changing the past could cause unintended consequences. When Marin looks at a past tragedy, she realizes the tragedy ended up inspiring others to do good in the world. The relatable characters, mystery, and message all combine to create a story that is entertaining and thought provoking. The story ends on a positive note as it highlights that despite a past mistake, the future still holds the promise of happiness.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During a party at the neighbor’s, Charley’s dad put food in the oven and it began to smoke. He didn’t want the fire detector to go off so he removed the batteries. Later that week, a fire broke out and Charley’s friend died. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Charley and his brothers live with their grandmother because his parents are on drugs. His dad “started using drugs. And then my mom did, too. Because he made her unhappy, too. And they wouldn’t stop.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Marin and Charlie see a group of teens. Charlie thinks the teens are time travelers from the past. Marin thinks the teens are from the future.
  • At one point, Marin wonders if “it was a message from God—a vision, like the kind Marin heard about in church.”
  • Charlie “decided that [a dead girl’s] psychic energy lingered in the place where she’d died. . . Her way of haunting people was to show them good things they needed to see.”

Spiritual Content

  • Marin goes to church with her family. When they go to a new church, Marin is afraid no one will like her. She prays, “Please, God. Please, please, please don’t let me start crying here in front of everyone. . .”
  • During church, the pastor starts “reading a Bible passage, one about Jesus being tempted in the desert. ‘So I’m going to hear about even Jesus messing up?’ Marin thought.”
  • Marin’s father prays that the baby begins to sleep through the night.
  • Marin and her friends were having a sleepover. The girls had a fight so Marin went to sleep in the guest room. While there, she prayed, “Please let someone come and I’ll apologize. Please.”
  • One of Marin’s friends was sick. When Marin asked, “Did she have cancer?” Her father replied, “Thank God, no.”
  • Marin’s father has a difficult time finding a job. He tells Marin, “I will quit whining about how my life isn’t going the way I planned it, and I will get back out of bed and try something new! And. . . I’ll accept that God is maybe trying to send me a sign that he needs me in a different place than I thought, and I’ll quit fighting that message. . .”

The Unbound

In the sequel to Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, Mackenzie Bishop’s adventures as a Keeper of the Archive continue. At the same time, she must balance going back to school and figure out her relationship with Wes, her best friend, and fellow Keeper. But Mackenzie is still haunted by Owen Chris Clarke, the History who almost killed her and nearly brought the end of the Archive. Owen frequently visits her all-too-realistic dreams, and Mackenzie starts to question her sanity as the Archive’s other mysteries close in around her.

But her dreams aren’t the only things haunting Mackenzie. A string of disappearances follows her path, where she was the last person to interact with each of the missing persons. Plus a mysterious man keeps watching her while she’s traveling to and from school. As if that wasn’t enough, she keeps blacking out and waking up with no recollection of what happened. Is a lack of sleep, or something more sinister haunting Mackenzie?

The Unbound is shades darker than The Archived both in atmosphere and content, which helps to enhance the mystery of the Archive and its employees. As the stakes rise, it becomes clear that the reader knows little more than Mackenzie, who struggles with the trauma of almost dying and being manipulated by Owen in the last installment. Some plot points revolve around Mackenzie’s parents, who fear that Mackenzie is depressed, self-harming, and acting out. However, much of the trouble that Mackenzie encounters is because of the Archive and her nightmares. By the end of the novel, Mackenzie is ready to heal her relationships with her parents, Wes, and, most importantly, herself.

The back-to-school setting helps balance the darkness of the Archive and Mackenzie’s nightmares. Although school is not a completely safe location for Mackenzie, school is the one truly normal place that she and Wes experience. At times, their friends provide comic relief and tell Mackenzie more about Wes, who is notoriously secretive.

School also helps bring Mackenzie out of her inner world and the world of the Archive. In many ways, having friends and going to school pulls Mackenzie back into the realm of the living. In both The Archived and The Unbound, Mackenzie spends her time straddling the line between living and dead, between the real and imagined. But in this installment, Mackenzie becomes a more seasoned Keeper while also learning how to live her life.

The Unbound is an exciting follow-up to the darkly magical The Archived. The end neatly wraps up this book and provides a bridge to a potential third book. This book does continue the adventures from The Archived, so The Archived needs to be read first. This book is a must-read because Schwab’s creative prose wonderfully captures the world of the Archive and Mackenzie’s journey, through interesting discussions about grief, trauma, and the scars that we all carry. The dead never truly leave us, but as Mackenzie learns, sometimes it’s necessary to let go and embrace the living as tightly as we can.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie and another Keeper, Wes, are friends who spend a lot of time haplessly flirting, though Mackenzie insists that they aren’t dating. However, they do act like they’re dating and Wes sleeps in Mackenzie’s bed. Mackenzie narrates, “I catch his hand, music flaring through me as I draw him to the bed.” They do not have sex.
  • Since Mackenzie and other Keepers have the power to “read” people and objects, another person’s touch tends to be really noisy and overwhelming for Mackenzie. Wes kisses her regardless, and she describes, “The way his lips smiled against my jaw, his now-familiar noise—that cacophony of drum and bass—pressing through me with his touch before I could find the strength to tell him no.”
  • Cash kisses Mackenzie. She says, “His lips are warm and soft, and my head fills with jazz and laughter; for an instant, it feels sweet and safe and simple. But my life is none of those things, and I realize as the kiss ends that I don’t want to pretend it is, and that there is only one person I want to kiss me like this.”
  • Wes and Mackenzie kiss again. Mackenzie describes, “I kiss him, not gently but desperately.” The description lasts for a page.

Violence

  • Mackenzie has frequent nightmares about Owen, the History who tried to kill her in the previous novel. Mackenzie says, “I dream of him dragging the jagged side of his blade across my skin as he murmurs that the ‘real’ Mackenzie Bishop must be hidden somewhere under all that flesh.” This nightmare happens often, and he usually stabs her in the dream, “[driving] the knife forward into [her] chest.”
  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben “was killed last year on his way to school” in a hit-and-run. His death plagues the family.
  • Wes has a rough home life, and Cash describes Wes’ parents’ divorce as “brutal.” When Wes retreated for a year, not contacting his friends at all, and then returned, Cash gave him a “black eye” for abandoning them. They are still good friends.
  • Mackenzie dislikes the family therapist because she assumes incorrect things about Mackenzie and she convinced Mackenzie’s mother to throw out Ben’s stuff after he died. Mackenzie recalls once that “the one time we met face-to-face, she saw a scratch on my wrist from a pissed-off History and was convinced I did it to myself to feel things.”
  • On her way home from school, two guys attack Mackenzie with a pipe and a knife. She blacks out and wakes up to the two men laying on the ground, “covered in blood.” Mackenzie has no recollection of what she’s done. She notes that one man’s “nose is broken. Blood is gushing down his face, and one of his legs looks like it’s bent at the wrong angle.”
  • Mackenzie runs over a jogger with her bike by accident. “The collision is a tangle of handles and wheels and limbs, and we both go down hard on the concrete.” Other than scrapes and scratches, both are ok.
  • A girl named Bethany goes missing, and Mackenzie learns from her classmates that Bethany’s home life was rough. Her mom had remarried and the situation was turbulent. One girl notes that “sleazy dude [the stepfather] has been there all of a week when he’s home alone with Bethany and takes a go at her . . . She did what any self-respecting Hyde schoolgirl would do. She punched him in the face. But when she tried to tell her mom what happened, she said it was Bethany’s fault.”
  • Someone attacked Cash, and he shows up to school with a “cut beside his eye [and] a bruise darkening his jaw.”
  • Owen, the History that tried to kill Mackenzie in the previous novel, is back, though Mackenzie doesn’t know how. He attacks her at school and kills a passerby. Mackenzie describes, “I hit the ground and roll over and up onto my feet again as he lunges forward and I lunge back. Or at least I mean to, but I misjudge the distance and the toppled shelves come up against my shoulders an instant before he forces the bat beneath my chin.” This continues for several pages.
  • Owen kills one of the Crew, another Archive employee, at the dance. The Crew “crumples, and before he can recover, Owen takes his head in his hands and snaps his neck.” A fight scene with Owen, Wes, Mackenzie, and several other Crew continues for several pages after this death.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mackenzie takes medication for her headache and then promptly blacks out. When she wakes, “the drinking glass is lying in glittering pieces on the counter, my hand wrapped around the largest shard. Blood runs between my fingers where I’ve gripped it and down my other arm where I’ve carved a single deep line.” She has no recollection of what happened.
  • Mackenzie’s mother drugs Mackenzie to make her sleep. Mackenzie describes the moment when she realizes that her mom slipped a sleeping pill into her drink. She says, “At first I think I’m about to have another blackout, but those happen fast, and this is slow like syrup.”

Language

  • Dallas, the therapist, says to one Crew member, “I’d tell you not to be such an ass, Zachary, but it would be a waste of my breath.”

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive. The Archive is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • none

by Alli Kestler

The Other Side of the Wall

It’s Christmas break. Tess and Max are in London staying at the posh Sanborn House with their Aunt Evie. As they wait for their parents to arrive, there is an unusual snowstorm that makes the city seem as if it’s caught in a snow globe. It’s the perfect weather for an adventure in Hyde Park. But when Max, Tess, and Aunt Evie leave to search for a cab, they find a horse, carriage, and driver curiously waiting for them at the curb. And that’s just the beginning…

Soon Tess is charmed by a mysterious boy named Colin who lives at the hotel all year round—on the 8th floor. Max is sure the elevator only had 7 floors the day before. How come everyone at the hotel seems to ignore Colin? Things seem to get stranger and stranger. There’s a 1920s costume party in Colin’s parents’ apartment, a marble that seems to be more than it appears, and a shadow that passes mysteriously by Tess and Max’s hotel window.

Tess wants to figure out what’s going on, but she finds only more questions. Is it just a coincidence that Colin’s last name is Sanborn, the same as the hotel? Why does the cat’s-eye marble look eerily similar to the crystal at the top of their hotel room key? And, most importantly, what happened in that hotel one Christmas long, long ago?

Tess and Max are realistic characters who travel back in time. The world building is beautiful, but some readers will quickly become bored because the beginning of the story lacks action. When Tess and Max meet Colin, they are slow to realize that he is a danger. When Colin possesses Max, Tess begins calling him “the person who used to be Max.” This phrase was used too often, and the repetition is annoying. Despite this, Tess’s dedication and love for her brother is both realistic and enduring.

Unlike traditional Christmas stories, The Other Side of the Wall is both mysterious and creepy. The story takes the reader back in time and ends with the sad death of Colin. Readers who have not read the first two books in the series will be slightly confused. Even though the story hints that Tess sometimes sees things that are not really there, her behavior is never explained. The Other Side of the Wall ends abruptly leaving many unanswered questions.

Anyone who wants to add a little fright to their Christmas night will want to read The Other Side of the Wall. The unique story replaces jingle bells for spooky spirits. However, if you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure, you will want to leave The Other Side of the Wall on the library shelf. For those looking to put a little scare into the holiday season, you might want to ask Santa to put Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story by R.L. Stine into your stocking.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Tess and Max go into the hotel’s lobby. “There were two young men in the library (which also had a fully stocked serve-yourself bar in a small room adjacent to it).”
  • Tess’s aunt tells her that, “My friend Bobbie rang up and asked if I’d run down the road to a pub for a holiday drink.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Tess and Max go to a party where they meet a seer. She tells them, “I ask the question, or you do, but it’s the cards that tell me the answer. I’m not much more than a conduit.”
  • Tess and Max meet a boy named Colin. When Colin begins to go pale, “Max reached out to touch him, but it was as if his hand seemed to go right through Colin’s arm. As if he had become transparent or he wasn’t really there, as if. . .” When Max moves away, Colin “started to walk towards Max, purposefully, step by step, directly to him, almost as if Colin was playing chicken or else he wanted to whisper something to Max. . . But then there was the most startled look on Max’s face. . . as Colin walked directly into him and simply disappeared.” Colin takes over Max’s body.
  • Tess pets a terrier. The dog suddenly vanishes “and Adele the psychic was standing in front of her.” Tess wonders how the dog could transform into Adele.
  • Max walks “straight through the wall. . . and simply disappeared.” Frightened Tess runs out of the room and talks to a man. “But before she could finish the sentence, she saw the gentleman’s face begin to crack and tiny pieces start to break away, first his cheek and then part of his nose as if he was made of plaster.”
  • Tess follows Max into a dark hallway where orange vectors appear. As Max walks on the vectors, Tess follows.
  • Following Max, Tess jumps in a carriage. The horse, Comet, raced so quickly, “it was as if Comet was able to, levitate would be the right word, or simply fly just off the ground, carrying the carriage behind her through mid-air, cold air, spectacularly dotted with snow. . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Ghosted

When Ellie entered junior high, she promised herself that she would never look weak. She became the smartest, prettiest, best-dressed, and most popular kid at Lincoln Heights Middle School. She is also the most feared. Ellie has figured out that the more horrible she is, the more people fear her, and the more they respect her. Ellie has perfected the ability to manipulate people through fear.

The night of her junior high winter dance, Ellie has a terrible accident. As she lays unconscious, a ghost takes Ellie on a trip to her own past, present, and future. Ellie is forced to relive her parents’ divorce, her struggles with school, and the loss of her best friend, Marley. Can what Ellie sees, inspire her to change her ways?

From the first chapter, the story focuses on Ellie’s mean, manipulating ways. While the reader comes to understand the events that lead Ellie to become such a horrible person, it is hard to relate to her. When Ellie’s parents first divorced, Ellie was surrounded by her best friend Marley and Marley’s two dads. Instead of being comforted by their supportive presence, Ellie focused on what she didn’t have and “let those feelings of hurt and sadness fester into something ugly.” For the reader, Ellie’s ugliness overshadows every other aspect of the story.

Margolis clearly shows the dangers of Ellie’s meanness – both for Ellie and the people she encounters. However, some of the events are unrealistic and portray preteens as sheep who follow the most popular person out of fear. None of Ellie’s peers have the strength of character to stand up to Ellie, even when Ellie makes them do outrageous things. In reality, parents and teachers would have stepped in and protected Ellie’s classmates from her cruelty.

Ghosted follows the same format as The Christmas Carol, and like Scrooge, Ellie changes her ways. Ellie learns and finally admits that “making other people feel bad and weak distracts me from my own pain. And it props me up.” Ellie chooses to own up to her mistakes and apologize; however, the conclusion has several plot holes that readers will notice. For example, while at school Ellie falls and is unconscious for 15 minutes; however, the students do not get a teacher, and they call off the ambulance because when Ellie comes to, she feels fine. In addition, the story glosses over the hurt and pain that Ellie caused others and hints that all will be forgiven.

The story moves at a fast pace. The ghost, who is sarcastic and mean herself, adds interest. Although the message is pertinent to middle school readers, Ellie’s cruelty makes it hard to root for her. Readers looking for another story inspired by the Christmas Carol should pick up Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story by R. L. Stine. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a Christmas story that will leave you with a warm glow and a positive message, add the Celebrate the Season series by Taylor Garland to your must-read list.

 Sexual Content

  • Ellie takes a video of Marley, who is joking around. Marley pretends that she is boy crazy and says, “I have never kissed a boy, but sometimes at night I practice by kissing my old American Girl doll. I cut the hair off so she looks like a boy.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • On Christmas Eve, Ellie and her mom have dinner with friends. Ellie’s mom drinks a glass of wine.

Language

  • Ellie thinks that her classmates have “marshmallows-for-brains” and are morons.
  • The ghost calls Ellie stupid and a dummy.
  • Ellie thinks the ghost and her dad are both jerks.
  • OMG is used as an exclamation three times.
  • My God is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • After a fall, a ghost shows Ellie her past, present, and future self. The ghost can also read Ellie’s mind.
  • The ghost drags Ellie “from place to place, year to year, shrinking you down to fit into the snow globe, changing your regular outfit into a bikini for the fish tank, only to go and transform you back into your regular size.”
  • The ghost takes Ellie to different places. One of the places is a mural that some classmates made. Another place Ellie is transported to is a tunnel in a loaf of bread.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story

Rick Scroogeman hates Christmas. He can’t stand the carols or the pageants. He doesn’t like the lights or the mistletoe. But the worst part about the season is having to watch the old movie version of A Christmas Carol, especially since all of his classmates have started calling him Scrooge.

When Rick finds out that he didn’t get a part in the school play, he’s determined to get revenge. When Rick’s terrible prank successfully ruins Christmas for his classmates, he feels victorious. But when three ghosts appear, Rick realizes what he thought was just a nightmare might become real. Can anyone teach Rick the true meaning of Christmas?

Rick is truly a terrible boy. He thinks being mean is funny. He enjoys stomping on people’s feet, taking his brother’s jelly beans, and getting revenge. Rick bullies his way through life and doesn’t understand why so many people don’t understand his humor. When the Christmas ghosts appear, Rick learns how it feels to be bullied. Even though Rick learns how it feels to be bullied, the ending is ambiguous enough to make the reader wonder if Rick will change his horrid ways.

In Young Scrooge, Rick tells his own story. His snarky comments and ungrateful attitude show he is completely unaware of others’ feelings. When the ghosts take him to different realities, Rick is put on the receiving end of a bully. Yet for the majority of the story, Rick is more concerned with getting home and getting his Christmas gifts. Even though Young Scrooge is based on A Christmas Carol, the ending won’t give the readers a warm fuzzy feeling.

Readers who want to put a little horror into the holidays will find this ghost spooky but not scary. The story’s short chapters and easy vocabulary make the story easy to read. Even though the story shows the harmful effects of bullying, the story is never preachy. Although parents might find Young Scrooge lacking, younger readers will enjoy the fresh twist on A Christmas Carol. Young Scrooge will never become a Christmas classic, but it will entertain readers and would be a great conversation starter on bad behavior.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Rick splashes water on Davey. Rick thinks it’s funny because “everyone will see the dark spot on the front of his pants and think he had an accident.” When Davey gets mad, Rick slaps “him hard on the back. He goes sprawling into the yellow tile wall.”
  • When Jeremy asks Rick, “What do you want, Scrooge?”, it makes Rick angry so he tromps “down on the top of his sneaker as hard as I can with the heel of my shoe. . . That must hurt. He starts to hop up and down on one foot.”
  • When Rick walks into one of his classes, he sees Lucy. “First, I take my thumbs and smear the lenses on her glasses. Then I take both hands and ruffle her hair as hard as I can.”
  • Rick makes fun of a boy that stutters, then, “[he picks] him up by his waist and lifted him into his locker. And then [Rick] closed the locker door with him inside.”
  • While walking to the front of the class, Rick “tromped really hard on Josh Cratchit’s foot as I passed by him. I couldn’t believe how loud he screamed.” When Rick returns to his seat, he “gave it another good hard stomp as I passed.”
  • Josh sees Billy O’Brian, who is fat. Instead of calling Billy by his name, Rick calls him Belly O’Beast. Rick likes “to grab his big belly with both hands, jiggle it up and down, and shout, “‘Earthquake!’ especially when there are girls watching. Belly’s fat face always turns bright red.”
  • When Rick finds out that the kids did not want him to be in the play, Rick puts ants in their costumes. “Some kids sprawled on their backs, scratching. Others were frantically pulling off their costumes. I saw ants scurry out of the clothes and over the stage. Ants crawled all over Belly’s cheeks and forehead.”
  • When Rick gets home, he sees his brother Charlie. “I dropped my backpack on the floor. Then I grabbed both of his ears and tugged them as hard as I could.”
  • When Christmas carolers come to Rick’s house, he throws snowballs at them.
  • Rick is taken to a school in the past. A kid “raised his big boot and tromped his heel down as hard as he could on top of my right sneaker. . . pain shot up my leg, up my entire body. . . The pain was unbearable.”
  • When a girl laughs at Rick, he “grabbed the back of her hair and gave it a tug. You know. Playful. Not too hard.” The girl then dumps ink on Rick’s head.
  • A boy “stuck his foot out and tripped [Rick]. [Rick] stumbled into the big globe. Landed on top of it. And the globe and [Rick] rolled across the floor.”
  • While building snowmen with Ashley, Rick “grabbed up a big handful of snow and molded it into a snowball. . . and smashed it into Ashley’s face. [Rick] held it there, rubbing it over her cheeks and eyes.”
  • While in the future, Rick is taken to his grave. When he peers in it, he sees some of the kids from Dead Middle School. “They were huddled in my grave—and I could see right through them! They were transparent, all in shades of gray. No color. And now they raised their arms. All at once, they shot their arms up out of the hole. Hands wrapped around my feet. Two guys floated up and wrapped their arms around my waist.” Rick is able to pull himself free, but “One of the arms holding my waist fell off. The arm ripped off at the shoulder and fell to the dirt.” The scene is described over five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Rick thinks most of the kids in his school are losers.
  • Mr. Pickwick didn’t give Rick a part in the play. Rick thinks it is because the teacher is a jerk.
  • When a girl dumps ink over Rick’s head, the other students laugh. Rick thinks, “I felt like a total jerk.”
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Rick to his friends’ Christmas party. Rick overhears the kids saying he was a “total jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Rick sneaks into his attic looking for his Christmas presents. The attic door closes and the lights go out. Then, Rick sees “an eerie green-yellow mist swirling at the other end of the closet. . .It curled up on itself like a snake. [Rick] stared without breathing, without moving as the mist curled and uncurled, up to the closet ceiling, then down again.” The mist is replaced by a man. “His nose came to a sharp point. His eyes glowed red like burning coals.” The man is the ghost of Marly. The ghost discovers that he is in the wrong house and leaves.
  • After the ghost of Marly disappears, another one appears. “His long gray robe reached the floor, covering his whole body. It billowed like drapes at an open window, and I heard a sound like rushing wind. . . He turned toward me and I could see into the hood. I saw only blackness in there. No face. No face at all.” The ghost is the ghost of Christmas Past.
  • The ghost of Christmas Past touches Rick, then “The wind picked up again. . . [Rick] covered both of [his] ears with [his] hands as the blast sent [him] flying off the floor. Flying into a deep blackness.” When Rick opens his eyes, he is in the past.
  • After being in the past, the Ghost of Christmas Present appears and transports Rick to his time. “We plunged down, then started to slow. Colors swirled up in the gray, bright flashes of green and blue and red. So bright, I shut my eyes.” When he appears, Rick discovers he is now part of a different family.
  • While trying to leave his new family, two snowmen stop him. “I lowered my head and tried to swerve around it. But it moved quickly, silently gliding over the snow, staying close, pushing its big bulk in front of me. . . I pulled my arm back and shot my fist as hard as I could into my snowman’s frozen head” When another snowman comes near, Rick hits it as well. “The snowman didn’t seem to feel it. I tugged myself back—but now both hands were stuck in its icy grip. I pulled and pulled again, leaning as far back as I could, but I couldn’t free them.” One of the snowmen transforms into the Ghost of Christmas Present.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future appears in the form of a robot and takes Rick to “Dead Middle School” where everyone is dead.
  • Rick hides in a closet. “And then I felt a puff of cold wind. I opened my eyes in time to see the closet fill with a purple light. . . The closet began to shake. The shelves rattled.” Rick is transported home.

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Archived #1

Contrary to the popular adage, the dead do in fact tell tales. Many of them. The dead, or Histories, are kept in a place hidden from the living world called the Archive, where only the Librarians can access them. But sometimes they wake, and they make it into the Narrows (the world between) and some are willing to kill to get back to the living world. Keepers are tasked with returning the lost Histories back to the Archive, and sometimes things get . . . messy.

When Da brought his twelve-year-old granddaughter, Mackenzie Bishop, into the Archive to have her take his place as Keeper, she quickly became a young, ruthless prodigy. After a tragedy, Mackenzie starts to see her brother in the eyes of the Histories that she has to return to the Archive. Mackenzie must confront the lines that separate the living and the dead. With the increases in disturbances in the Archive and someone erasing Histories, Mackenzie uncovers the secrets that keep the Archive in one piece.

Mackenzie and the other characters are extremely realistic, despite their fantastical stories. Headstrong and fiercely independent, Mackenzie struggles with grief over her brother’s death and the secrets about the Archive that she must keep from her family. She shows strength in her ability to own up to and correct her mistakes. Mackenzie’s struggles are wide-reaching and she is a sympathetic character. Her relationships with other characters, including the Librarian Roland and fellow Keeper Wes, help her improve as a person and bring some light to an otherwise somber story.

Despite the gothic nature of the titular place, the Archive itself is beautiful. Housing and tracking the Histories of the dead is a macabre business, and as one of the main locations in the novel, the Archive ironically has a life of its own. With a curious cast of Librarians and other personnel working within the structure, at times the Archive seems more alive than the outside world.

The Archived presents strong themes about grief, memories, and the line that separates life and death. Mackenzie, being only a teenager, tackles these topics that haunt all the characters—young, old, dead, and alive. The various ways her parents deal with death versus the ever-secretive Librarians’ ways of dealing with the dead serves to enhance the discussion about death and memories in particular. All the characters have regrets and push the line between the world of the living and the Archive, and their stories are ultimately determined by their abilities to deal with grief and the past.

Victoria Schwab paints an atmosphere that is equal parts magical and spooky in The Archived. Readers who want a darker book will be delighted by Schwab’s prose and wildly inventive world. The Archived sets up an interesting series with much to discover. In the sequel, The Unbound, more secrets are revealed through Mackenzie’s next adventures. The Archived shows that the dead never really leave us, as long as their memories live on in those that they loved.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie dreams of being normal, and in her dreams, she “kisses a boy.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor confuses Mackenzie for a kiss-a-gram. Mackenzie eventually tells him, “Sir, I’m not here to kiss you.”
  • One of the escaped Histories kisses Mackenzie. She says, “as his lips press against my skin, the silence flares in my head, blotting something out. Heat ripples through my body, pricking my senses as the quiet deadens my thoughts. He kisses my throat, my jaw. Each time his lips brush my skin, the heat and silence blossom side by side and spread, drowning a little bit of pain and anger and guilt, leaving only warmth and want and quiet in their place.” The description continues for a couple of pages, and this situation happens a couple of times.
  • Fellow Keeper Wes kisses Mackenzie. Mackenzie describes, “I’m about to speak, about to tell him that, tell him everything, when he brings his hand to the back of my neck, pulls me forward, and kisses me . . . all I can think is that he tastes like summer rain. His lips linger on mine, urgent and warm. Lasting.”

Violence

  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Mackenzie describes the accident. “It was a normal day, right up until the point a car ran a red light two blocks from Ben’s school just as he was stepping from the curb. And then drove away.” Later, she recalls a memory. “The cops are talking to Dad and the doctor is telling Mom that Ben died on impact, and that word—impact—makes me turn and retch into one of the hospital’s gray bins.”
  • Some Histories, or ghosts from the Archive, are called “Keeper-Killers, the Histories who manage to get out through the Narrows and into the real world.” As the name suggests, these Histories kill Keepers to escape.
  • Mackenzie had to face trials to become a Keeper. In a memory, Mackenzie narrates, “Da told me to be ready for anything, and it’s a good thing he did, because between one moment and the next, [the examiner’s] posture shifts . . . I dodge the first punch, but he’s fast, faster even than Da, and before I can strike back, a red Chuck connects with my chest.” This sequence continues for a couple of pages.
  • One of the Histories has a knife and attacks Mackenzie. She saw metal, “and jump[ed] back just in time, the knife in his hand arcing through the air, fast.” Other Histories escape and attack Mackenzie as well.
  • Da taught Mackenzie how to fight. In her memory, she recalls, “You take me out into the summer sun to show me how to fight. Your limbs are weapons, brutally fast. I spend hours figuring out how to avoid them, how to dodge, roll, anticipate, react. It’s get out of the way or get hit.”
  • With her Archive-granted ability to see into the past, Mackenzie sees the memory of a guy murdering a girl in a hotel. The guy swipes “a large shard of glass from the floor . . . He’s on top of her, and they are a tangle of glass and blood and fighting limbs, her slender bare feet kicking under him as he pins her down. And then the struggle slows. And stops . . . I can see her, the lines carved across her arms, the far deeper cut across her throat.”
  • A series of deaths occurred within months of each other, some look like suicides and some look like accidents. Mackenzie learns that the circumstances for each death are fuzzy at best. She wonders, “Did he jump or was he pushed? Did Marcus hang himself? Did Eileen trip?”
  • A History stabs Wes. Mackenzie watches as “Wes throws another fist, and Owen catches his hand, pulls him forward, and plunges the knife into his stomach.” Wes is severely injured but survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Da smokes “a cigarette.” He is a lifelong smoker.
  • Mackenzie can “read” objects by touching them. When she’s reading a bloodstained floor in the hotel, she sees a boy who “judging by his feverish face and the way he sways, he’s been drinking.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor shows up and “a thin stream of smoke drifts up from his mouth, where a narrow cigarette hangs.”

Language

  • Profanity is occasionally used. Profanity includes damn, ass, bastard, and hell.

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive, which is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • Da shows that he’s somewhat superstitious/spiritual, and Mackenzie has the same superstitions. Before entering the Narrows, Mackenzie says, “I pull Da’s key from around my neck, running a thumb over the teeth the way he used to. For luck, Da used to rub the key, cross himself, kiss his fingers and touch them to the wall—any number of things. He used to say he could use a little more luck.”
  • Wes refers to his dad’s new fiancée as “Satan in a skirt.”
  • Wes reads part of Dante’s Inferno. He says, “When you think about it, the Archive is kind of like a Hell.”

by Alli Kestler

The Ghost Collector

Ghosts don’t scare Shelly. As an apprentice to her ghost-hunting grandma, Shelly catches ghost cats, dogs, and raccoons in her hair. She helps them move on to wherever comes after death. Shelly watches her grandma do the same with people. It’s what the Cree women in their family have always done.

When Shelly’s mom is in a terrible accident and dies, Shelly’s world is completely shattered. Now, Shelly wants to know what happens after death. Where do all of the ghosts go? Why do some spirits stay as ghosts? Shelly is in a desperate search to find her mother’s ghost. She wants to talk to her mother one last time. If Shelly’s mom loved her, wouldn’t she come back as a ghost?

Without her mom, everything has changed. Now, Grandma doesn’t take Shelly to hunt ghosts. Shelly feels lost and alone. She knows she’s breaking the biggest rule of ghost-hunting: it’s not right to force spirits to stick around. Shelly never intended to keep ghosts hidden in her bedroom, but when she’s surrounded by ghosts she doesn’t feel as lonely. If she keeps hunting ghosts, maybe she will eventually find her mother’s ghost.

The Ghost Collector uses a unique premise to show one girl’s struggle with grief. In a desperate attempt to understand her mother’s death, Shelly questions several ghosts about the afterlife. At first, Shelly is angry and confused because her mother doesn’t reappear as a ghost. However, by the end of the story, Shelly accepts her mother’s death and is able to put away the belief that if her mother loved her, she would have come back as a ghost. The Crees’ beliefs are intertwined with the story, which gives Shelly an added depth.

As Shelly’s grandmother teaches her about ghosts, she also teaches her a set of rules. For example, Grandma teaches Shelly that “we’re not supposed to charge everyone for their ghost.” However, after Shelly’s mother dies, everything begins to change and Grandma begins breaking her own rules. Grandma says, “Sometimes the rules are what you make them. Sometimes they need to be bent—broken. Sometimes the world is made of hard choices.” Shelly is angry and confused that Grandma doesn’t follow her own rules, and soon Shelly thinks she also doesn’t need to follow the rules.

Shelly encounters a variety of ghosts who have various reasons for not passing on, including confusion, fear, and unfinished business. One of the ghosts encourages Shelly to spend more time with the living. The ghost tells Shelly, “I’ve got nothing but time. You, on the other hand, still need to get through the business of living. Enjoy it. Being dead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Some readers, especially ones who are experiencing grief, may be disturbed by the way ghosts are portrayed (see below for specifics). The Ghost Collector allows the reader to see Shelly’s mixed emotions and understand her grief. At times Shelly’s grief is heart-wrenching, but her personal growth is also inspiring. The Ghost Collector is an engaging story that will allow readers to explore the topic of death. Parents may want to use the story to begin a discussion of the difficult topic of death.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Shelly thinks back to when she was younger and a classmate “cut off the end of her braid and when she hit him the principal said they were both wrong and called their parents. . . Shelly’s mom said she didn’t see how her daughter hitting a kid after he cut her hair was an unreasonable response.” Later Shelly’s mother told her, “Hitting people shouldn’t be your first response, but fighting back when someone tries to bully you isn’t a bad thing.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The women in Shelly’s family can see ghosts. “Shelly’s grandma teaches her about ghosts, how to carry them in her hair. If you carry your ghost in your hair, you can cut them off when you don’t need them anymore. Otherwise, ghosts cling to your skin, dig their fingers in under your ribs, and stay with you long, long after you want them to.”
  • Shelly’s grandmother helps people get rid of ghosts, and Shelly often goes with her. One woman asked for Shelly’s grandmother’s help. When Shelly and her grandmother go to the woman’s house, “Shelly can see the ghost that haunts the lady’s apartment dancing around her feet. It’s a little dog with a constantly wagging tail, trotting around on tiny paws with nails that click against the hardwood floors. . . Shelly catches the dog in the ends of her hair then scoops it into her arms . . . when the puppy licks her face it feels like someone is rubbing an icicle against her cheek.”
  • Several times in the book, Shelly’s grandmother helps animal ghosts move on. “Animal ghosts tend to be simple—the spirits of creatures that haven’t realized they’re dead yet. Being outside helps them fade away because a ghost removed from an anchor—whether that’s its home where it died, a favorite place, or a grave—will start to fade unless someone tries to keep it around. . . Shelly and her grandma use their hair like a net, like a fishing lure. They let ghosts cling to them and act as a hook to carry the dead to new places, places where they won’t be tied to anything and will be able to fade.”
  • One of the characters is the ghost of a teen, who sits on his gravestone. When he talks, “his mouth moves, but his voice comes from the headphones around his neck. . . Ghosts don’t usually come with accessories—Joseph having the player and headphones means he was buried with them.” Joseph tells Shelly, “I don’t know why some people stay and some people go. I don’t know why I stayed, except I was less scared of being a ghost forever and being stuck here, alone, than of whatever comes next.’
  • Estella stays at the graveyard where she was buried. She wants to wait and see her headstone.
  • Shelly and her grandmother help a raccoon move on. When Shelly first sees it, she thinks, “It’s an easy ghost. A raccoon that got stuck in the chimney. He looks furious about being stuck. When Shelly lets down her hair, he grabs hold of it eagerly, pulling himself free from the shaft and climbing straight into her arms.”
  • Shelly and her grandmother go to a friend’s house to get rid of a ghost. Shelly “feels the ghost as soon as she steps into the house. . .There’s nothing nice feeling about this ghost at all. It’s like static electricity all along her skin—a prickling sensation that makes the hair on her arms stand up and has her shivering.” When the ghost appears, “It looks like static, too, all flickering black and white and gray. . . it doesn’t walk, just flashes on and off, on and off. . .” The scene is described over two and a half pages.
  • While learning about ghosts, Shelly learns that “sometimes the dead are just confused about what happened, so they don’t move on. Sometimes they’re angry or upset. Sometimes, like Estelle, they do want to stay so they can do one last thing. But ghosts can get stuck, and that’s when hauntings happen.” Sometimes when “people throw out old things, ghosts go with them on their way to find a new home—confused spirits Shelly and Grandma used to snip off objects and bundle up to set free later.”
  • Shelly and her grandmother go to a house because a ghost was knocking pictures off the wall. When they arrive to set the ghost free, they see a “bird is sitting on top of a bookshelf. Its feathers are ruffled up and it looks about as disgruntled as a bird can look. . . Grandma bundles her hair up around the bird and holds it there until she’s sure it’s caught.”
  • Shelly meets the ghost of a little boy, who is confused and angry. He wants to know where his mother is.
  • When Shelly gets mad at Joseph, she “lashes out and kicks her foot through Joseph’s immaterial body and he topples over from the force of it, coming uprooted from his spot on the ground by his grave. . . He flickers, like the man who Grandma once dredged up from the river.” Joseph is scared and confused “as he twists in place and tries to claw his way back toward his grave, his spot.”
  • Shelly learns that “Death is going to happen to everyone, but knowing when it’s going to happen, choosing when you make the transition from life to death, choosing whether or not you’ll be a ghost and stick around a little longer, isn’t something most people get the chance to do.” She also learns that “Ghost are echoes of the person they once were. They fade away slowly, personalities and memories eroding over time.”

Spiritual Content

  • Shelly’s mom asks her if she wants to eat or go to the thrift store. Shelly says she wants to eat. Her mother replies, “Thank God, I’m starving.”

The Forgotten Girl

On a cold winter night, Iris and her best friend Daniel sneak into the woods to play in the freshly fallen snow. There, Iris makes a perfect snow angel—only to find the crumbling gravestone of a young girl named Avery Moorse right beneath her.

Soon strange things start to happen to Iris. She begins having vivid nightmares. She thinks she sees the shadow of a girl lurking in the night, and she feels the pull of the abandoned grave calling her back to the woods…

Obsessed with figuring out what’s going on, Iris and Daniel start to research their town. They discover that Avery’s grave is actually part of an abandoned black cemetery, dating back to a time when white and black people were kept separate in life—and in death. They become determined to restore Avery’s grave and have proper respect finally paid to Avery and the others buried there.

Unfortunately, they have summoned a jealous and demanding ghost, one who’s not satisfied with their plans. She is tired of being overlooked and wants Iris to be her best friend forever—no matter the cost.

The Forgotten Girl is a heart-stopping ghost story intertwined with the historical significance of racism. As Iris and Daniel research their town’s history, they learn about when their junior high was desegregated and the history of segregated cemeteries. The story delves into history, but the examples of racism are completely integrated into the story and never feel like a lecture. Through the characters’ eyes, readers will be able to understand how racism isn’t always overt, but it is always painful.

The story also shines a light on how grief can change people’s lives. When Daniel’s father dies, Daniel becomes fearful and cautious. He spends more time at home and no longer spends time with his friends. However, Daniel is not the only person affected by a death. When Daniel’s grandmother, Suga, was a teenager, her best friend died during a snowstorm. The loss of her friend caused Suga to become fearful and superstitious. Through their experiences, the reader learns the importance of not allowing fear to control your life.

Iris and Daniel’s friendship will draw the reader into the story, but readers will keep reading because of the creepy events that happen. The Forgotten Girl uses an engaging story to present historical information that is both interesting and relevant. At the end of the book, the author’s note gives historical information about abandoned graveyards and her inspiration for the story. However, sensitive readers should be wary of reading The Forgotten Girl because the ghostly events are frightening; readers will be able to imagine the events happening to them. Despite this, The Forgotten Girl should be on everyone’s reading list because of the historical information and positive lessons.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While doing research, Iris and Daniel learn about when Nelson’s Pond Middle School was desegregated. “There were protests…Avery and the others were spit on, their hair was pulled, and things were thrown at them, when all they wanted to do is go to school. To learn.”
  • A ghost tries to drown Iris so they can be “forever friends.” Daniel sees Iris. “Iris’s head broke the surface of the pond, her mouth open to take a loud gasp of breath, before she was pulled back underwater…she’s pushed Iris into the pond and held her under. Iris tries to fight her, but couldn’t, her arms going right through her instead.” Iris survives the attack. The scene is described over six pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Suga has many superstitions. Suga believes that “Babies can talk to angels, you know.”
  • Suga believes that the snow spirits snatch children. She tells Iris the tale. “When you hear the winter wind, that’s the sound of their screaming. That’s when you’ll know spirits of the snow are ready for their feeding. Wandering children are their prey, lonely in the night. They take the children in the snow, feeding on their fright.”
  • When someone drops their fork, that means they will get an unexpected visitor soon.
  • Suga tells Iris, “If you looked over your left shoulder and saw a ghost, it was probably the devil. If you looked over your right, it was likely an angel.”
  • Suga tells Daniel, “Well, if a ghost is attached to a person, they’ve lost their way to where they were trying to go in the first place… They need to be led to where they need to go, so they can rest. A ghost obsessed with a person is a lost spirit.”
  • When Iris and Daniel are lost in the woods, Daniel “silently prayed, thought about his father… Daniel saw a light. He let himself become relieved. He was starting to see houses!” Iris is afraid that the light is a trap, but Daniel “didn’t think so. He didn’t feel afraid. The light felt like basketball and comic books and trying ties and haircuts…” When Daniel touches the ball of light, “a familiar, warm comfort washed over him. He felt the excitement he used to feel from holding a basketball. He felt his dad telling him that it would be all right, that he was proud of him. That he was at peace.”

Spiritual Content

  • While sneaking out of the house, Iris “tiptoed down the stairs praying that they wouldn’t creak.”
  • When Iris hears a tap-tap-tap, she “prayed that the spirits of the snow wouldn’t come for her tonight in her dreams.”
  • Iris falls asleep. When a noise wakes her up, “she stared straight at the ceiling, realizing she’d fallen asleep praying.”
  • Iris and her family go to church. “The pastor talked about the importance of helping those in need, talking about some of the community service drives they were holding…” During the church service, “they prayed their benediction.”
  • When Daniel’s family go to visit his father’s grave, “Suga closed her eyes in prayer.”
  • Before the meal, Iris’s sister “said a singsongy prayer.”
  • When Iris sneaks out of the house, the neighbor turned on the porch light and yelled to see if anyone was near. Iris “ran past the neighbors’ house, praying that they were already back in bed, not looking for anyone anymore.”

Archimancy

Cordelia Liu wasn’t happy to leave California. As soon as she stepped into Shadow School, she knew things were going to be different. Still, she didn’t expect the school grounds to be filled with ghosts.

Cordelia soon realizes she’s not the only one who can see the ghosts; her new friend Benji can too. Together with super-smart Agnes, the trio are determined to find out why the ghosts are there and whether there’s a way to set them free.

But the school was created with more sinister intentions, and someone is willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure that the ghosts remain trapped forever. Cordelia and her friends don’t know who they can trust. Do they need to fear the living, the dead, or both?

Shadow School isn’t just another ghost story. White creates a unique setting that is spooky without being overly frightening. Cordelia and her friends are somewhat stereotypical, but readers will still enjoy the brainy Angus, the sullen cute Benji, and the curious Cordelia. As Cordelia and her friends help the ghosts leave Shadow School, readers may be slightly disappointed that the ghosts’ stories lack detail. Instead of delving into the ghosts’ personal stories, the ghosts are quickly dispatched.

Even though Cordelia solves each problem quickly, readers will still enjoy the mystery behind Shadow School as well as the character’s interactions. Since Cordelia is a new student at Shadow School, she struggles to make friends. Throughout the story, Cordelia learns the importance of forgiveness as well as the importance of being friends with people who are different than her.

Cordelia is far from a perfect character, but her flaws make her relatable. She has awkward moments with her parents, she isn’t sure who she can trust, and she doesn’t always know what to do. Cordelia thinks about ignoring the ghosts, but decides to continue helping them because “easy choices were seldom the right ones.”

Shadow School has just the right amount of mystery, friendship, and frightening scenes to keep middle school readers engaged. Readers will have to use context clues to decipher difficult vocabulary, such as pealegume, tessellating, assuage, and spile. Told from Cordelia’s point of view, Shadow School gives readers an exciting peek into a paranormal world. Readers who enjoy Shadow School will also enjoy Nightbooks, another spooky story written by J.A. White.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While eating lunch, a food fight starts. “A plate of lasagna smacked” a boy in the face and “a piece of stringy cheese dangled from his nose as he searched for the culprit. . . Trays flew through the air, raining down lasagna, pizza, bagels, fries, sticky beverages, and the occasional healthy salad. There were no hurricane-forced gales, no apparent cause for the objects to be moving on their own. . . The table next to Cordelia was rumbling like a volcano about to erupt. She pulled Grant to safety as it slid across the room, right where they had been standing a moment before.” As the kids run out of the cafeteria, Cordelia sees a ghost. The chaos is described over three pages.
  • Cordelia hears a ghost whistle a lullaby and “Cordelia felt her limbs grow sluggish and saw the boy. . . could barely stay awake. His eyes fluttered, and he tottered uneasily from side to side before falling through the wall.” As Cordelia watches the ghost grab a tool with “a long pincer on one end, black and jagged like the claw of a prehistoric crustacean . . . the green-eyed ghost dug the pincer into the back of the hipster and pressed a trigger at the opposite end. The edges of the pincer closed. The green-eyed ghost pulled backward, and the hipster seemed to leap out of himself, though the version gripped by the pincer quickly deflated and hung like a suit of clothes.” Cordelia figures out that the ghosts fade away because someone snatched parts of them.
  • When Cordelia and her friend try to take blueprints out of a hidden office, a ghost sees them. The ghost named Elijah “raised his arm and point[ed] to the left, where the bronze compass that had been sitting on the table now hovered in the air, its rusty but still serviceable point extended in their direction. As Cordelia watched, the compass was joined by a utility knife and two pairs of scissors, while a row of sharpened pencils took position to their right.” A boy ghost “came out of nowhere, plowing shoulder-first into the back of Elijah’s legs and knocking him over.” Because of the boy ghost, Cordelia and her friend are able to escape. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Cordelia and her friends plan to trap the evil ghost in a ghost box. When one of the evil ghosts (Lenny) tries to grab Cordelia, “the hiker reached out and wrapped her arms around him. Lenny tried to shake her off, but the hiker dragged him backward with a fierce look of determination. Within a few moments, his entire body was inside the ghost box with her.”
  • As Cordelia goes down a hall, “the lockers to either side of her began to rumble and shake. . . Locks burst open and shot across the hall at dangerous speed. Cordelia heard one whiz past her ear while another clipped her wrist, sending a lightning bolt of pain all the way to her elbow. She broke into a run.” School supplies begin hitting Cordelia, then “the world went black.”
  • An evil ghost named Geist tries to get rid of Cordelia. When he catches her, “Cordelia suddenly rose two feet into the air and drifted toward the cart. She tried to fight it, but Geist was too powerful.” Cordelia’s friends save her and they capture Geist. “Cordelia grabbed a tool of her own and got to work, fastening the claw to Geist’s hip. The ghost snatcher spun in her direction, his green eyes glowing with malevolence, but there was nothing he could do. . .One, Geist was gone. Two, each one of their snatching tools now held a sad, deflated sac of skin.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cordelia googled “Good Spirits” and instead of getting information on ghosts, the search “took her to a list of stores that sold alcohol.”
  • Agnes makes brownies and shares them with adults. Then she tells them, “I added crème de menthe. That’s alcohol!”

Language

  • Heck is used twice.
  • Cordelia says a boy is “a jerk.”
  • While telling a story Agnes says, “some idiot dumped a few northern snakeheads into a pond in Maryland. . .”

Supernatural

  • Some of the characters can see ghosts. The number of ghosts is “always changing. New ones arrive. Old ones fade away.” One of the characters explains, “Ghosts stay in one small area. A bench, like Newspaper Man. Or the gym, like the boy. There’s a doctor wearing green scrubs who mostly sticks to the supply closet, but sometimes she rushes down the hallway with her hands up in the air. It always happens real quick, like she’s just been called into surgery.”
  • Cordelia puts glasses near the Newspaper Man. When he puts them on, he “flipped to the next page and propped his feet up on the table. All the frustration left his body. . . A black triangle the size of a welcome mat appeared in the air above him, hovering a few inches below the ceiling. . . The triangle grew until it was half the size of the room. . . It slid open from the bottom, like a garage door, revealing a gentle, flickering light that brought to mind a cozy fireplace on a cold winter’s night.” The man enters the triangle and disappears.
  • Cordelia puts blush by a woman who continues to look in the mirror. When the woman picks it up, “the black triangle appeared a few moments later.” When the door slid open this time, Cordelia saw a room with “bright, pulsating light of a party.”
  • The ghosts that disappear “don’t seem so happy about it. Almost like they’re sick. . .”
  • Cordelia and her friends discuss what a poltergeist is. Someone explains, “It’s a special kind of ghost that can move objects around.”
  • The kids find the blueprints to make a box that traps ghosts. The owner of the school “believed that if he studied these [haunted] houses and tracked the similarities between them, he could use this knowledge to build a haunted house on purpose. He called this process archimancy.”
  • Ghosts have special goggles that let them see the living.
  • When an evil ghost whistles a tune, “the music wrapped itself around [Cordelia], squeezing the tension from her muscles and soothing all her worries. Cordelia know she should run, especially when she saw Whistler climb the first few rungs of the ladder, but moving required a huge amount of energy that she no longer possessed.” The Whistler grabs Agnes’ cheeks and “she instantly began to shiver. . . Agnes’s lips began to turn blue.” Someone blows a whistle and the “shrill sound was deafening in the small, round, overpowering Whistler’s song.” The kids are able to escape.
  • When an evil ghost, the Whistler, touches an object, a red triangle appears. “Instead of hovering in the air like its black siblings, the triangle lay flat on the floor, gleaming like a poisonous candy apple. It slid open. Puffs of smoky darkness polluted the room. . . Cordelia heard factory sounds: the pump of pistons, rumble of heavy machinery, roar of a furnace. And screams. There were lots of screams.” The Whistler falls into the triangle and the triangle vanishes.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Tunnel of Bones

Cassidy isn’t excited to be in one of the most haunted cities in the world—Paris. While her parents are filming their TV shows about haunted cities, Cassidy doesn’t plan on attracting danger. But when her parents take her to the creepy underground Catacombs, Cassidy finds danger lurking in the shadows.

When Cassidy accidentally awakens a frightening, strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghost hunter and her friends, both old and new, to help her unravel a mystery. As the spirit grows strong, Cassidy realizes that she’s not the only one in trouble. Soon the ghost causes disaster after disaster, which endangers the people Cassidy loves. Can Cassidy stop the angry spirit, or will he haunt her city forever?

The second installment of the City of Ghost series will not disappoint. As Cassidy follows her parents through Paris, Cassidy gets a firsthand look at some of Paris’s ghostly stories. While many of the ghostly encounters could be deadly, Cassidy’s best friend (and ghost), Jacob, is always waiting in the shadows in order to keep Cassidy out of trouble. Readers will enjoy Cassidy’s inquisitive mind and courage.

Cassidy’s adventures take her into Paris’s underground as well as to several of Paris’s landmarks. The adventure is at times creepy and suspenseful, but always interesting. Tunnel of Bones adds several new and interesting twists. As Cassidy tries to help a young ghost remember his past, she begins to wonder if Jacob will also begin to lose his memory of his earthly life. The parallel between the two ghosts adds an interesting dimension to the story.

Tunnel of Bones will entertain readers with a good ghost story. The easy-to-read text contains short sentences and offers action, description, and dialogue. Although several ghosts make a short appearance that does not enhance the plot, a little boy ghost continues to reappear which gives the story an air of mystery and unexpected danger. Cassidy’s faithful friends and encounters with frightening ghosts mixed with a dash of humor creates a highly entertaining ghost story. Although Tunnel of Bones can be read as a stand-alone novel, readers will not want to miss the first book of the series, City of Ghost.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, she drops a necklace and begins to look for it. “But before I can reach it, the ghost grabs me by the collar and pushes me back against a tree. I try to twist free, but even though he’s a ghost and I’m not, the Veil levels the playing field.” Cassidy’s friend Jacob comes to her aid. “The ghost looks sideways just as Jacob swings the bucket at his head. The man staggers, black tar dripping down his face, and I gasp, dropping to the ground.” Cassidy uses her mirror to send the man on. The scene is described over three pages.
  • In order to see a ghost, Cassidy climbs onto a roof. When the ghost sees her, he pushes her off the roof. Cassidy is “falling, and somewhere between the edge of the roof and the lawn below, I cross back through the Veil and land hard on the ground beside the crypt. The fall knocks all the air from my lungs and sends pain jolting up through my right arm, and for a second all I can do is blink away the stars and hope I didn’t break anything.” Cassidy’s arm “zings” but she isn’t seriously injured.
  • When Cassidy opens the Veil, she sees a man “in an old-fashioned suit. He lifts an old-fashioned pistol and aims it straight at me, and Jacob wrenches me back out of the Veil before the shot goes off.”
  • The poltergeist opens the back door of a truck and “the contents begin to spill out. Boxes and crates smash into the street, followed by a massive golden frame that hurtles straight towards me.”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, she is on a train car. When she changes train cars, she sees a ghost. “And as he turns, I see the knife buried in his stomach. His own hand curled around the blade as if to keep it from falling out. The sheen of blood running down his front.” Jacob drags Cassidy out of the train car and slams the door.
  • While looking for the poltergeist, Cassidy runs into a man. “The man snarls and grabs me, shoving me against a wall of bones that rattle as they dig into my back. I gasp, but I manage to swipe the cap from his head before Jacob lunges at the spirit from behind, hauling him backwards. . . Jacob slams the other ghost into a pillar of skulls. The bones topple with a crash, and the man drips, dazed, to his hands and knees.” Cassidy and Jacob run away.
  • In order to help the poltergeist remember his past, Jacob grabs ahold of the boy. The boy “thrashes, trying to twist free. The air around him ripples and glows red, and the whole tunnel begins to shake as the crimson light spreads over everything, splitting across the floor, the ceiling and the walls of bone. . . The whole ground begins to shake with the force of Thomas’s displeasure. Even the wall of bones to my left begins to tremble and shift.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone tells a story about a man that was invited to a party. When the man goes to the party, “he found a party in full swing, and passed the night with music and wine and excellent company. . . And then something hits me. Not the frame, but a pair of hands. They plant themselves against my back and shove, and I stumbled forward to the pavement, scraping my palm as the frame crashes into the stone wall and rains glass onto the street behind me.”
  • Cassidy’s parents are in their hotel room “sharing a bottle of red wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Cassidy’s best friend, Jacob, is a ghost and can read her mind.
  • Cassidy can travel through the Veil and the in-between where ghosts live. Cassidy explains, “That’s the thing about the Veil: It only exists where there’s a ghost. It’s like a stage where spirits act out their final moments, whatever happened that won’t let them move on.”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, “the world around me—vanishes. The carnival lights, the crowds, the sounds and smells of the summer night. Gone. For a second, I’m falling. And then I’m back on my feet.”
  • In order to get a ghost to move beyond the Veil, Cassidy holds up a mirror for the ghost to look into. Then she says, “Watch and listen, see and know. This is what you are.” When Cassidy says the words, “the whole Veil ripples around us, and the ghost thins until I can see through him, see the dark thread coiled inside his chest. Lightless, lifeless. I reach out and take hold of the thread, the last thing binding him here, to this world. It feels cold and dry under my fingers, like dead leaves in the fall. As I pull the cord from his chest, it crumbles in my palm. Vanishes in a plume of smoke. And then, so does the ghost.” Cassidy completes the same pattern on two other ghosts, and the ghosts disappear.
  • Cassidy awakens a poltergeist. Cassidy’s friend tells her, “It’s a spirit drawn to spectral energy… It was probably dormant until it sensed yours, Cassidy. . . That cold sensation you’ve been feeling, it is a kind of intuition, a warning that strong spirits are near. . . Poltergeists are wanderers. They’re not stuck in a loop or a memory, and they’re not tied to the place they died.”
  • While trying to understand ghosts, Cassidy calls a friend that tells her “the Veil is tailored to fit the ghost, [and] the place they died, which means it’s essentially tied to the ghost’s memory—that’s what binds it there. So if a poltergeist isn’t bound to the Veil, it’s because—they don’t remember.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Unravel Me

Juliette has escaped from The Reestablishment, who wanted to use her as a weapon. She no longer has to hide her love for Adam. But even though Juliette can now make plans, she can never be free from her lethal touch. And even though she doesn’t want to hurt people, she cannot contain her power, and others continue to suffer at her hand.

Juliette doesn’t decide if she wants to join the resistance until Warner threatens her friends. When her friends are taken captive, Juliette knows she must join the fight. But she is haunted by her past and terrified of her future. In the end, Juliette may have to choose between her heart or saving lives—including Adam’s.

Although Unravel Me has an interesting premise, readers will find it difficult to connect with Juliette because she cannot look past her own needs. Not only is Juliette whiny, but she also constantly berates herself and apologizes for her actions. Instead of focusing on understanding her power, Juliette allows her powers to take control, which leads her to hurt others. Instead of taking action, Juliette repeatedly says she’s sorry, but the apologies lack depth because she does nothing to learn how to control her power and prevent further harm.

The evil leader, Warner, reappears in the second installment of the series. Although Warner is self-centered and craves power, Unravel Me tries to paint him in a more positive light. Soon Juliette is confused by her growing attraction to the man who tried to kill Adam. Even though Juliette is trying to understand Warner, the three-way romance just doesn’t work. Juliette was so devastated when she hurts others, but she is somehow willing to overlook Warner’s killing nature. Instead of feeling sorry for Warner, the reader will be left confused. How can Juliette have intense romantic feelings for a power-hungry man who is willing to kill to get what he wants?

Unfortunately, Unravel Me spends so much time delving into Juliette’s emotional pain and indecision that other characters never have the opportunity to make more than a quick appearance. Instead, readers will have a difficult time caring about what happens. Although the story is unique, there are just too many plot twists that don’t make sense. Readers may want to consider leaving Unravel Me on the shelf. If you’re looking for a fast-paced story with a sprinkle of romance, try A Little in Love by Susan E. Fletcher or the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie.

Sexual Content

  • Adam kisses Juliette. “His left hand is cupping the back of my head, his right tightening around my waist, pressing me hard against him and destroying every rational thought I’ve ever had . . . Somehow I end up on top of him. He reaches up only to pull me down and he’s kissing me, my throat, my cheeks, and my hands are searching his body, exploring the lines, the planes, the muscle . . . This moment. These lips. This strong body pressed against me and these firm hands finding a way to bring me closer and I know I want so much of him. I want all of him. . .” The two only stop kissing when Juliette’s power begins to hurt Adam. The scene is described over five pages.
  • Juliette asks a man if he spied on her when she was changing. He replies, “. . .you are definitely not my type. And more importantly, I’m not some perverted asshole.”
  • Warner shows Juliette a tattoo on his lower back. She thinks, “I want to study the secrets tucked between his elbows and the whispers caught behind his knees. I want to follow the lines of his silhouette with my eyes and the tips of my fingers. I want to trace rivers and valleys along the curved muscles on his body.”
  • Warner asks Juliette to run away with him. Then he grabs her, and she feels “his skin against my skin and I’m holding my breath. . . I don’t say a word as his hands drop to my waist, to the thin material making a poor attempt to cover my body. His fingers graze the soft skin of my lower back, right underneath the hem of my shirt and I’m losing count of the number of times my heart skips a beat.” Then he kisses her and “he traces the shape of my mouth, the curves the seam the dip and my lips part even though I asked them not to. . .” When he kisses her, she thinks, “His lips are softer than anything I’ve ever known, soft like a first snowfall, like biting into cotton candy, like melting and floating and being weightless in water. . . He kisses me again, this time stronger, desperate . . . His lips touch my bare stomach. . . He’s leaving a trail of fire along my torso, one kiss after another, and I don’t think I can take much more of this. . .” Juliette freaks out and Warner leaves. The scene is described over ten pages.

Violence

  • When Juliette sees Adam being experimented on, she freaks out. She punches “my fist right through the floor. The earth fissures under my fingers and the reverberations surge through my being, ricocheting through my bones until my skull is spinning and my heart is a pendulum slamming into my rib cage.” After her anger is spent, Juliette sees that her “skin is torn and blood is everywhere and I can’t move my fingers. I realize I’m in agony.”
  • After taking hostages, the supreme commander demands to see Juliette. When she arrives, “He’s pinned me against the wall by the throat, his hands carefully sheathed in a pair of leather gloves, already prepared to touch my skin to cut off my oxygen, choke me to death and I’m sure I’m dying, I’m so sure that this is what it feels like to die, to be utterly immobilized, limp from the neck down. . . He lets go of me.”
  • Later, the supreme commander tells his son, Warner, to kill Juliette. When Warner points the gun at his father, his father says, “Shoot me. . . So much talk and never enough follow-through. You embarrass me.” Warner’s father “backhands Warner in the face so hard Warner actually sways for a moment. . .”  Then Juliette grabs Warner’s father’s neck and thinks, “I’ve pinned him to the wall, so overcome by a blind, burning, all-consuming rage that I think my brain has already been caught on fire and dissolved into ash.” Juliette shoots the man in both legs and she is “entertained by the horror in his eyes. The blood ruining the expensive fabric of his clothes. I want to tell him he doesn’t look very attractive with his mouth open like that but then I think he probably wouldn’t care about my opinion anyway.” One of Juliette’s friends pulls her away before she can kill Warner’s father. The scene is described over four pages.
  • In Juliette’s diary, she talks about the day she was taken to the prison. The guards “handcuffed my hands behind my back, the one who strapped me to my seat. They stuck Tasers to my skin over and over for no other reason than to hear me scream but I wouldn’t. . . They slapped me awake even though my eyes were opened when we arrived. Someone unstrapped me without removing my handcuffs and kicked me in both kneecaps before ordering me to rise. . . I really can’t remember the part when they dragged me inside.”
  • In a skirmish between the resistance and the Reestablishment, the Reestablishment’s soldiers “are unloading round after round, shooting at anything that could be a target. . . One man has his hands to the ground, freezing the earth beneath the soldier’s feet, causing them to lose balance. . .” One of the men collects a whirlwind of particles and forms a cyclone. When he lets go, “the soldiers are shouting, screaming, running back and ducking for cover but most are too slow to escape the reach of so much destruction and they’re down, impaled by shards of glass and stone and wood and broken metal but I know this defense won’t last for long.” Juliette uses her powers to cause an earthquake, which allows the resistance fighter to escape. The scene is described over six pages.
  • The Reestablishment gathers a group of citizens together to kill them. In order to try to help the citizens, Juliette and her friends discuss their options. While they talk, they see “27 people lined up, standing side by side in the middle of a big, barren field. Men and women and children of all different ages. . . One of the soldiers fires a shot. The first man crumples to the ground. . .” During the scene, Juliette’s “eyes are locked on a little girl who can’t be much older than James, her eyes so wide, so terrified, the front of her pants already wet from fear and it rips me to pieces. . .” Juliette and her friends shoot at the soldiers and they “see one [bullet] find its mark in a soldier’s neck. . . We’re dodging the bullets aimed in our direction and I see Adam dropping to the ground, I see him shooting with perfect precision and still failing to find a target. . . 3 soldiers go down almost instantly.”
  • During the fight, Juliette sees “dead dead dead is everywhere. So many bodies mixed and meshed into the earth that I have no idea if they’re ours or theirs. . . I’m tackled from behind. Someone pins me down and my face is buried in the ground and I’m kicking, trying to scream but I feel the gun wrenched out of my grip. I feel an elbow in my spine. . .” A soldier points a gun at Juliette, and “I’m only clawing at his covered arm, at the muscle he’s bound around my neck and he shakes me, shouts at me to stop squirming and pulls me tighter to cut off my air supply and my fingers are clenched around his forearm, trying to fight the viselike grip he has around me and I can’t breathe and I’m panicked. . . I’ve crushed all the bones in his arm. . .” Someone hits Juliette on the head, making her “almost entirely unconscious.” The scene is described over 10 pages.
  • Warner’s father shoots Juliette in the chest. She thinks, “My heart has exploded. I’m thrown backward, tripping over my own feet until I hit the floor, my head slamming into the carpeted ground, my arms doing little to break my fall. It’s pain never thought I could feel, never would have even imagined.” Juliette doesn’t die from the wound.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Adam talks about his father, who would only come around “to get drunk and beat the crap out of someone.” After Adam’s mother died, his father would “come by just to get piss-drunk. He used to force me to stand in front of him so he could throw his empty bottles at me.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Towards the end of the book, the profanity ramps up and appears on almost every page. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bullshit, bastards, crap, damn, dumbass, goddamn, hell, holy shit, jackass, and shit.
  • “Oh God,” “God,” and “Jesus” are used as exclamations often.
  • Juliette remembers the world before the Reestablishment took over. She “remembers the pissed-off skies and the sequence of sunsets collapsing beneath the moon.”
  • When Adam tries to tell Juliette how he feels, he ends up saying, “Jesus. What the hell am I saying. Shit. Shit. I’m sorry—forget that – forget I said anything. . .”
  • One of Juliette’s friends yells at her. “And I should kick my own ass for it, but I feel sorry for you. So I tell him I’ll help. I rearrange my entire goddamn schedule just to help you deal with your issues.”
  • One of Juliette’s friends says, “Jesus. How early is it? I would kick a soldier in the crotch for a cup of coffee right now.”
  • When someone calls a man a “fetus,” the man gets angry and says, “I am mad. I’m pissed off. And I’m cranky as hell because I’m tired. And hungry. And I need more coffee.”
  • Someone says Adam’s father was being a “dick.”

Supernatural

  • Many characters have special powers. Juliette is trying to learn how to harness her energy. “Our gifts are different forms of Energy. Matter is never created or destroyed. . . as our world changed, so did the Energy within it. Our abilities are taken from the universe, from other matter, from other Energies.”
  • When Juliette touches someone, she drains the life out of them.
  • The first book in the series explains how Juliette goes to a compound where she meets a man who can move things with his mind. There is also a man who tells her, “Sometimes I electrocute people by accident” and another who is really flexible. He “loops one arm around his waist. Twice.”
  • At the compound, two women are healers—one heals the physical body and the other heals emotional wounds. The healers “can set broken bones and repair bullet wounds and revive collapsed lungs and mend even the worst kinds of cuts.”
  • Another person can “blend into the background of any space. Shift myself to match my surroundings.”
  • Adam discovers that he can project his ability and can disable others’ abilities.
  • Adam’s brother can heal quickly.
  • Warner can sense other people’s emotions, which allows him to know when someone is lying. He can also be a conduit to transfer other people’s energy.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Shatter Me

Juliette has always been an outcast. She doesn’t understand why she is different; she just knows her touch is fatal. After being locked in solitary confinement for 264 days, Juliette is shocked when she gets a new cellmate—a boy. Adam wants to be Juliette’s friend, but she doesn’t know if she can trust him. Then, the Reestablishment takes both her and Adam to a new facility.

The Reestablishment has plans for Juliette. Plans to use her as a weapon. Juliette doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Even though Juliette is still a prisoner, she is discovering the strength to fight back. She wants to have a future. With Adam by her side, Juliette plans her escape. When the time is right, will Juliette be able to escape the Reestablishment? Will Adam lead her to a better life, or does he have plans to betray her?

old from Juliette’s point of view, the story focuses on her thoughts and feelings. However, her thought process is often hard to understand as her thoughts are often described using figurative language. There is also no clear transition between her thoughts and what is actually happening in the story, meaning readers may have to go back and reread some scenes to make sure they understand the text.

The story has an interesting premise, but readers will have a difficult time suspending their disbelief. The story never explains why Juliette’s touch is lethal. Since Juliette’s touch is only lethal when her skin touches someone else’s skin, it is hard to imagine that no one has given Juliette a pair of gloves. Instead of helping Juliet protect others, her parents moved around after each disaster. When Juliette accidentally causes the death of a little boy, she is sent to prison and placed in an isolation cell. Once she is placed in the care of the Reestablishment, her main captor always wears gloves to protect himself. If her captor came up with the simple solution of gloves, why didn’t anyone else?

Juliette soon discovers that both Adam and her captor are immune to her touch. Since Juliette revels in the ability to simply touch another person, Juliette and Adam share steamy kisses between the high-action scenes. Although the plot is hard to believe, fans of dystopian stories will enjoy the unique characters as well as the battle of good versus evil. Full of suspense and surprises, Shatter Me is an action-packed story with plenty of steamy scenes. Readers will want to jump into the next book, Ignite Me, to see if Juliette finds freedom or just a different type of prison.

Sexual Content

  • When Adam holds Juliette, she thinks, “I wish I knew the taste of his lips.”
  • While Adam and Juliette are alone, he grabs her and puts her against the wall. Juliette is “trembling everywhere and he’s so gentle, so careful, touching me like I’m made of porcelain and I want to shatter. He’s running his hands down my body running his eyes across my face running laps with his heart and I’m running marathons with my mind. Everything is on fire. . . suddenly his lips are on my neck and I’m gasping and dying and clutching at his arms and he’s touching me touching me touching me and I’m thunder and lightning. . . ” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Adam tells Juliette that he loves her. Then, “his nose is touching my nose, his lips one breath away, his eyes devouring me already and I’m a puddle with no arms and no legs. . . His hands at my waist, gripping my hips, his legs flush against my own, his chest overpowering me with strength, his frame built by bricks of desire. . . He’s everywhere up my back and over my arms and suddenly he’s kissing me harder, deeper, with a fervent urgency that I’ve never known before.”
  • As Adam and Juliette kiss, she slips “my hands under his shirt and he chokes on a moan that turns into a kiss that needs me and wants me and has to have me so desperately it’s like the most acute form of torture. His weight is pressed into mine, on top of mine, infinite points of feeling . . . his lips are falling down my shirt and I don’t understand why I need to wear clothes anymore. . .” Their embrace is interrupted.
  • When Adam kisses Juliette, she gasps “and he’s kissing me, deep and powerful and unrestrained. His arms around my back, dipping my body until I’m practically horizontal. . .”
  • After Adam and Juliette escape, they get to a safe place and Juliette asks Adam to touch her. Then, “my face is in his hands and my lips are at his lips and he’s kissing me. . . His body is almost on top of mine, one hand in my hair, the other feeling its way down my silhouette, slipping behind my knee to pull me closer, higher, tighter. . . He takes my hands and press them against his chest, guiding my fingers as they trail down the length of his torso before his lips meet mine again and again. . . His hands slip under my shirt, skirting my sides, touching me like he’s never dared to before, and my top is nearly over my head when a door squeaks open. We both freeze.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • One of Adam’s friends tries to get him to move to a safer location. When Adam doesn’t hurry, the man shouts, “I mean, shit, man, I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to get naked, but now is probably not the best time for a nooner. So unless you want to get killed, I suggest you get your ass out here.”
  • When soldiers capture Juliette, a man grabs her, and “his lips touch my skin and I actually whimper.” The man tells her, “God I’d love to just take a bite out of you.” Juliette pretends she likes the man’s touch so she can get his gun. The man’s “hands are exploring my body, slipping down my back to feel the form of my figure and it’s all I can do to keep from doing something reckless. . . And he kisses me. Hungrily. Desperately. Eager to break me open and taste me. . . I pull him closer, grab a fistful of his jacket and kiss him as hard as I can, my fingers already attempting to release the first of his buttons. Warner grips my hips and allows his hands to conquer my body.” When Juliette has the opportunity, she shoots him. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When Adam is beaten, Juliette tells him to get better because “I’m going to memorize every inch of your body with my lips.”
  • When Adam heals from his injuries, he wants to be alone with Juliette. When everyone leaves, Adam leans “in and I’m leaning in until I’m practically on top of him and he’s slipping me into his arms and kissing me with a new kind of desperation . . . His hands are threaded in my hair, his lips so soft and urgent against mine. . .” Adam “kisses my bottom lip. Bites it for just a second.” The scene is described over a page.

Violence

  • Juliette thinks back to when the Reestablishment was taking over the country. She remembers “the bad memories. . . Protests. Rallies. Screams for survival. I see women and children starving to death, homes destroyed and buried in rubble, the countryside a burnt landscape, its only fruit the rotting flesh of casualties. I see dead dead dead red and burgundy and maroon and the richest shade of your mother’s favorite lipstick all smeared into the earth.”
  • While in her cell room, guards come in and begin shouting. While Juliette stands there doing nothing, a guard “slams the butt of his gun into my back and my knees crack as they hit the floor. I finally taste oxygen and a side of blood. . . A steel-toed boot kicks me in the ribs, fast, hard, hollow.” The guards shove a gun into Juliette’s cellmate’s face. The guards make the two walk to a new destination. During the trip, Juliette thinks, “I don’t know how long I’ve been walking before another blow to my back cripples me.” When Juliette falls down, “there’s another heavy boot pressed into my back and I can’t lift my head to distinguish who’s speaking to me.”
  • A soldier is accused of “fraternizing with civilians believed to be rebel party members. He has stolen food and supplies from storage units. . .” When the soldier doesn’t deny the accusations, a man “takes a short breath. Licks his lips. And shoots him in the forehead.” The man’s “limbs are bent at odd angles on the cold, concrete floor. Blood is pooling around him and still no one moves.”
  • When Adam was younger, his drunk father took him to school. Juliette watched “a father slap his 8-year-old son in the face. I watched Adam fall to the floor and I stood there motionless as he was kicked repeatedly in the ribs.” While hitting him, Adam’s father screamed, “It’s your fault, you worthless piece of shit.”
  • In order to understand Juliette’s power, a man puts a toddler in a room that has spikes that come through the floor. In order to save the boy, Juliette is forced to touch him. When she does, “his screams pierce through me like I’m being shot to death, one bullet for every second. He’s clawing at my arms, my chest, kicking my body as hard as he can, crying out in agony until the pain paralyzes him.” After the test, Juliette gets angry. “I catapult through the concrete walls. I crush the glass with 10 fingers.” The test is described over four pages.
  • In order to escape, Adam slams “the butt of his gun into Warner’s head. Warner’s gun misfires and Adam catches his arm and twists his wrist until his grip on the weapon wavers. I grab the gun from Warner’s limp hand and slam the butt of it into his face. . .” During the fight, “Adam slams his knee into Warner’s spine. Warner falls to the floor with a muffled crack and a sharp intake of breath.” After Warner is tied up, Juliette and Adam are able to escape.
  • A man tells Adam, “No one should have to wake up in the morning and find dead bodies in their living room, but shit happens. We deal with it, and we find a way to survive.” As the man continues to talk, Adam gets angry and presses “a gun to his forehead.”
  • As Adam, Juliette, and others flee from the Reestablishment, “there are children everywhere, bright colors of small bodies suddenly screaming at our approaches. . . Adam pushes me to the ground just as a bullet flies past my head. He shoots down another door toward another exit, and we run through the ruins towards another exit, trapped in the maze of what used to be a clothing store. Gunshots and footsteps are close behind. . . Adam is breathing hard. He grips the gun in his hand. Pops his head out for a split second and fires. Someone falls to the floor, screaming.” Several people are killed and Adam is captured.
  • Juliette follows a trail of blood and finds Adam, who is “hanging from bound wrists, shirtless, bloodied, and bruised everywhere. His head is bent, his neck limp, his left leg drenched in blood despite the tourniquet wrapped around his thigh. . . His wrists are rubbed raw, bleeding, his body pounded into one piece of pain, his leg bloodied through with a bullet.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In the past, Adam’s father drove drunk.
  • A man gives Adam’s ten-year-old brother a sleeping pill. The man doesn’t want the boy to see Adam being chased by the Reestablishment.
  • When Juliette escapes, someone gives her a sedative to help her get over her shock. Later, Adam is also given a sedative to help him recover.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Towards the end of the book, the profanity ramps up and appears on almost every page. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bullshit, bastards, crap, damn, goddamn, hell, holy shit, and shit.
  • “Oh God,” “God,” and, “Jesus” are used as exclamations often.
  • After Adam treats Juliette badly, he says, “I’m sorry I’m such an asshole.” He also tells her, “I was a jerk yesterday. I treated you like crap and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
  • Someone calls Adam a “sick bastard.”
  • When a man sees Adam and Juliette kissing, he says, “Son of a motherless goat—“
  • One of Adam’s friends refers to Juliette as a “psycho chick.”
  • A man slept in a shed; he described that it “was weird. Crazy shit growing in the place. I almost ate something I thought was fruit before I realized it smelled like ass.”

Supernatural

  • When Juliet touches someone, she drains the life out of them.9 When a guard touches her, “I can hear his anguish, I can feel the power pouring out of his body, I can hear his heart beating in my ears and my head is spinning with the rush of adrenaline fortifying my being. . . My skin is pulsing with someone else’s life and I don’t hate it.” Juliette breaks the connection before the guard is seriously injured.
  • In the past, Juliette tried to help a little boy, but she “killed a little boy in a grocery store simply by helping him to his feet.”
  • Somehow Juliette was able to punch through a steel door. Her “fist flies through 12 inches of steel like it’s made of butter.”
  • Juliette goes to a compound where she meets a man who can move things with his mind. There is also a man who tells her, “Sometimes I electrocute people by accident” and another who is really flexible. He “loops one arm around his waist. Twice.”
  • At the compound, two women are healers—one heals the physical body and the other heals emotional wounds. Yet another person can “blend into the background of any space. Shift myself to match my surroundings.”

Spiritual Content

  • When in a difficult situation, Juliette “prays to God I’m making the right decision.”

Major Monster Mess

Welcome to Kersville, a town with a spooky history and a collection of ghosts and spirits who are major mischief-makers. Most kids spend their days without ever seeing or dealing with a ghost, but some kids get stuck with a haunt. When that happens, they call Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol. There’s no job too spooky, icky, or risky for Desmond.

Andres Miedoso is not like that at all. He is Desmond’s best friend and ghost patrol partner. Desmond Cole loves the cafeteria food, but Andres always brings his lunch. Unlike most schools, the lunch at Kersville Elementary is great. Desmond always has a plate heaping with food. When a cafeteria worker smells Andres’ lunch, strange things begin happening. Andres soon wonders if a monster is after his lunch.

In the sixth installment of the Desmond Cole Series, Andres takes center stage as he tries to find out why he comes home smelling like a monster. Another conflict is introduced when a shadow keeps trying to take Andres’s lunch, which is made up of traditional Hispanic foods. Major Monster Mess has a lot of aspects that will have younger readers turning the pages. Besides featuring a ghost that lives in Andres’s basement, there is also the threat of monsters, as well as the mystery of the shadow. As usual, Desmond and Andres discover that there is little to fear when it comes to monsters. Even though they may have scary appearances, they have good intentions—to cook the students of Kersville a delicious lunch.

The Major Monster Mess has a unique and humorous plot that has mystery and a satisfying, unexpected conclusion. The story contains just enough gross factor and scary monsters to keep readers turning the pages. Even though The Monster Mess is the third book in the Desmond Cole series, readers do not have to read the previous book. The story is told in ten short chapters with easy-to-read vocabulary; perfect for emerging readers. A black-and-white illustration appears on almost every page. The often humorous illustrations use exaggerated facial expressions so readers can tell what the characters are feeling. Readers will laugh as Desmond and Andres find themselves in unexpected situations. Readers who enjoy The Scary Library Shusher should also try the Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • On the way to school, a black shadow tries to take Andres’ lunch. “A black shadow streaked across the ground and flew right behind me! Then something grabbed my backpack and wouldn’t let go! The shadow was trying to pull me off my bike.” Andres pedals into a brier bush and the shadow “yowled and let go.”
  • While in the cafeteria, a black shadow tries to take Andres lunch. “. . . There was no way I was going to let some monster tear it away from me. So I fought back. The next thing I knew, we were in a tug-of-war. . .Before I knew it, he had pulled me into the air. We zoomed around the lunchroom while the monsters kept eating their food, splattering glop all over the place.” Desmond tries to help Andres and they both end up in a pile of goop. “It was filled with apple cores, pencil shavings, and toenail clippings.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Zax is a ghost that lives in Andres’s basement.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Heartwood Box

Araceli’s parents wanted her to have a normal, American senior year, so they sent her to stay with her Great-Aunt Ottillie. Araceli is supposed to be focusing on school and getting ready for college, but she thinks that her aunt’s old Victorian home may be haunted. Araceli can feel someone watching her, and it doesn’t help that her great-aunt still leaves food out for her husband that has been missing for twenty years.

Araceli’s great-aunt isn’t the only creepy thing in town. Local businesses are plastered with missing posters. The townspeople are watchful and suspicious of each other. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city walls that no one talks about. When Araceli begins getting letters from the past, she thinks someone is playing a nasty joke on her.

When Araceli’s friend disappears, she is determined to find out what is going on. In order to solve the mystery, she must investigate the other disappearances as well as the secretive lab. But someone is willing to go to great lengths to keep their secrets hidden. Can Araceli uncover the conspiracy or will someone make her disappear?

The Heartwood Box is an immensely enjoyable, complicated story that will have readers guessing until the very end. Told from Araceli’s point of view, the creepy town comes alive. Although Araceli isn’t the most relatable character, her story is compelling. The supporting characters are not well-developed but they help move the plot along at a fast pace. For those who love character-driven stories, The Heartwood Box might disappoint.

This story is a mix of science-fiction, mystery, and historical romance. The multiple plots may leave readers confused unless they pay close attention. Not only is Araceli falling in love with a World War I soldier, but she is also trying to fit in at a new school and solve the mystery of the town’s disappearing people. The end of the story ties all of the threads together in a satisfying, if somewhat implausible, conclusion.

Aguirre also throws in the theme of colorism. Several times in the story, Araceli talks about colorism and gives examples of how dark skin people are treated differently than whites. At one point she thinks, “I wish America cared the same about Black and Brown girls, but there’s a lot to do yet.” Even though Araceli is bi-racial, this theme is not well fleshed out.

Readers looking for a unique time travel mystery will enjoy The Heartwood Box, which has several surprising twists at the end. Some of the vocabulary is difficult, but the majority of the story is written in easy to understand language. Although the ending is rushed, the book will captivate readers who enjoyed the Ruby Red series by Kerstin Gier or Passenger by Alexandra Bracken.

Sexual Content

  • When Araceli has a friend over to the house, her aunt says, “You can watch TV in the parlor if you want. I do trust both of you, but it would be disrespectful for you to go upstairs.” Araceli thinks to herself, “Oh my God, if I wanted to hook up with Logan, I’d go across the street. He already said his parents aren’t home.”
  • In a dream, Araceli is able to see soldiers who are on a ship. She hears, “a slick skin-on-skin sound that I identify as a soldier jerking off, trying to be stealthy about it.”
  • While talking to a boy, Araceli thinks, “He’s thirsty for me. I’ve seen the look enough to recognize it, but I pretend not to know. . .”
  • When Araceli is sitting in a car with a boy, her aunt “saves me by flipping the porch light on and peeking out the front door, likely to make sure we’re not getting hot and heavy in her Plymouth.”
  • While in a dream, Araceli meets a soldier and, “I can touch him in this dream, so I do. There’s no reason to hold back. When he drops his weapon and opens his arms, I slide into them like I belong there. . . I stretch up on tiptoe and cup his face in my hands; I feel the heat of his skin, the scruff on his chin and jaw. Then I press my mouth to his, light and soft. He drags me closer and kisses me like our lives depend on it, all heat and desperation. . . We kiss and cling until I can barely breathe.”
  • When Araceli’s aunt and uncle see her sitting in a car with an older man, her uncle asks, “Is there something you need to tell us? We won’t judge you. Grown men who entice young girls should be ashamed.” Araceli tells them that the man was a family friend.

Violence

  • The town sheriff physically abuses his son. The abuse is not described, but Araceli sees the bruises. When the boy gets to school, she “can see his lip is busted, and his face is swollen on one side. At a minimum, someone slapped the shit out of him, and it looks more like he took a few hits to the face.”
  • In a letter, a soldier writes about his experiences. “France has become hell on earth, no way around it. Great tunnels in the dirt, piled high with bodies and you can’t tell a Jerry from a Brit from a Sammy. . . Death makes every soldier the same. Nobody is coming for those men, not to give them services or say a few words or even to bury them. The birds pluck out their eyes. . .” The soldier also writes, “I killed my first Jerry and threw up afterwards. . . My friend John took one in the gut, bad way to go. Took him hours to go west, and we were all freezing next to his body in a trench during that first long hour of hate.”
  • Araceli thinks back to the past. “The kids are protesting, shouting, waving signs. A shot rings out. The student leader goes down, bleeding from his head, and it’s all mayhem, all running and screaming.”
  • Someone tells the county sheriff to kill someone. The sheriff says, “You’re trying to give me a kill order? I can’t believe you think you bought me for fifty thousand.”
  • Araceli and her friends are trying to destroy mechanisms that create the ghost light. A man sees them and Araceli “rush[es] toward him, and everything else is instinct. With the hammer, I knock whatever he has out of his hand, and then I swing again, as hard as I can, right upside his head. His body goes flying, tumbling down the hill and into the water with an ominous splash.” The man dies.
  • Araceli and her friends are chased by guards who shoot at them. Araceli’s “heart thunders in my ears as more bullets spray the area. I get stung on a ricochet and a sharp pain slices across my calf. Shit, it hurts. . .” One of her friends is shot. “His voice comes out liquid with blood and breathy from his struggle for air. . . Jackson gives me a sad smile, his teeth stained with blood. . . He goes limp in my arms. . . Jackson’s blood is all over the soil and the stones, staining my hands and the suit he made to protect us.” The scene takes place over seven pages.
  • After Araceli’s friend dies, she jumps on an ATV and tries to escape. The guards, “snap shots at me as they can, but it’s not as easy from the back of an ATV, firing at a moving vehicle.” She crashes, and a man “twists my arms behind me and binds my wrists with what feels like a zip tie, then drags me out of sight. . .I taste blood from where my lips split against my teeth.” The man gags her and then puts her in a cell. The scene takes place over 4 pages.
  • Over a radio, Araceli hears “the sound of a Taser discharging and the impact of a fist hitting flesh.”
  • As Araceli and Dr. Perry try to get to the lab’s control room, Dr. Perry “slams into three guards coming around the corner. His weapon flies out of his hand. . .” Araceli shoots a guard in the belly and “the guard screams and topples over. . .” Dr. Perry shoots a guard. Later Dr. Perry shoots two more guards “neatly, two chest shots, two clean kills.” Eventually, someone shoots Dr. Perry. “Slugs slam into the blocks, shaking the cement. . . He’s down, bleeding from several wounds. . . He manages to shoot three of the four, and I fire on the last one while he’s reloading. . .” Dr. Perry dies. The scene takes place over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • As Araceli goes through town, she thinks about her past homes. “I can’t remember ever living in a freestanding house. There will be no rooftop garden parties here, no barbeques that draw out the neighbors so that we grill whatever’s on hand, and I take beer from the cooler without anyone asking how old I am.”
  • While in the past, Araceli goes to a Halloween party and gets drunk.
  • Araceli goes into a pizza place where some adults are drinking beer.
  • A girl’s mother is put on depression medication after her son disappears.
  • In a letter, a soldier says that while passing through England, they stopped at a town and some men got “puking drunk.”
  • When a boy is teaching Araceli to drive, he tells her, “You’re going really slow. If you’re not careful, you’ll get pulled over. Only people who are slightly high drive this much below the limit.”
  • Araceli is given a document that has information about the Heartwood box. A researcher had an “unfortunate addiction to hallucinogenic drugs.”
  • Araceli sends a note to the past, but wonders if the person receiving it, “was stoned when he got my note, laughed and rolled a joint with it.”
  • A boy’s grandfather only talked about a girl he once loved when he “had a little to drink.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bitching, crap, damn, dammit, fricking hell, holy shit, piss, pissed, shit.
  • Araceli meets a boy and thinks that he is “kind of a dick.”
  • When Logan’s father gets home, he yells at his wife and asks, “Where the hell is he? I told him to come straight home from school and look after the fucking yard.”
  • OMG is used twice. Oh my god is used six times. Oh god and Oh Lord are both used once.
  • When her aunt gives her snacks after school, Araceli thinks, “I swear to God, I’m starting to like pretending I’m five. . .”
  • Araceli describes her mood as, “grumpy as hell.”
  • Araceli thinks, “I’ve experienced some shit in my life, but I can’t say I ever lived in a haunted house. Until now.” Later she thinks, “This house is so damn haunted.”
  • A boy is wearing a shirt that says, “Get in line B*tches.”

Supernatural

  • While in her aunt’s house and at school, Araceli feels a chill. She also feels as if someone is watching her.
  • Araceli has vivid dreams where she goes into the past and can interact with a World War I soldier. When she is dreaming, no other people can see or hear her besides the soldier. However, after one dream a picture of World War I changes. When she dreams, she can find the soldier because “there was a tug. . . I feel that same pull now, delicate and tenuous. . .”
  • Araceli goes into the attic, and “before I get to the pull cord, it’s tugged by an invisible hand until the distinctive click, and the light flares on.”
  • Araceli finds a treasure box that allows her to communicate with a World War I soldier. They write letters back and forth. Araceli also puts small objects like mint and antibiotic ointment into the box.
  • The town has “ghost lights” that make people slip into another time.
  • When people disappear, their loved ones leave out food for them, which also disappears.

Spiritual Content

  • When Araceli wakes up after being asleep for days, her aunt says, “Thank God.”
  • Araceli thinks about her parents who “aren’t religious. My mom’s agnostic and my dad is a lapsed Catholic, so I was baptized and that’s about it. . . We go to mass once a year at Christmas, and it’s a somber occasion in most of the countries I’ve lived in.”
  • Araceli goes to church with a friend, but the service is not described. While there, a woman says, “Everyone is welcome in God’s house.”

The Scary Library Shusher

Welcome to Kersville, a town with a spooky history and a collection of ghosts and spirits who are major mischief-makers. Most kids spend their days without ever seeing or dealing with a ghost, but some kids get stuck with a haunt. When that happens, they call Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol. There’s no job too spooky, icky, or risky for Desmond.

Andres Miedoso is not like that at all. He’s Desmond’s best friend and ghost patrol partner. When our teacher gives us a research project, we’re excited to research the library. There should be nothing scary about the library, right? But once we begin our research, there’s a ghostly mystery woman who is causing all sorts of mischief. Can Desmond and Andres figure out what the ghostly woman is up to?

Desmond Cole and Andres are fun characters who are complete opposites. Desmond wants to chase after the zombie, while Andes wants to run in the other direction. Although the library isn’t the most exciting scene for a story, the flying books and spooky woman will demand the reader’s attention. Desmond and Andres learn that the book-loving ghost has a unique problem; one that the two kids help solve. The story has a humorous, unexpected conclusion that will leave readers smiling.

Although The Scary Library Shusher has a common plotline, it still has enough action, humor, and a non-scary ghost to keep readers interested until the very end. The story is told in ten short chapters with easy-to-read vocabulary which is perfect for emerging readers. A black-and-white illustration appears on almost every page. The often humorous illustrations use exaggerated facial expressions so readers can tell what the characters are feeling. Readers will laugh as Desmond and Andres find themselves in unexpected situations. Night of the Zombie Zookeeper is the fifth installment in the Desmond Cole series, however, none of the books need to be read in order. Readers who enjoy The Scary Library Shusher should also try the Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Books float off a shelf “all by themselves. Then they started flapping their covers like wings until, suddenly, the flying books swooped down toward Desmond. My best friend was under attack!”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Desmond and Andes hear a strange shhhhhh sound even though no one is there.
  • Computers start turning on all by themselves and “in the darkness, we could hear typing, and whoever was typing was doing it really fast. . . Plus, they were typing the same thing on every single computer. At the same time! It was just one very long word: Shhhhhh.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Anya’s Ghost

Anya just wants to fit in with the other kids. But, she knows that she’s not like them. She’s embarrassed of her Russian heritage, self-conscious about her body, and she only has one friend at school. After a particularly bad day at school, Anya distractedly walks home and falls into a well.

Anya didn’t expect to find a new friend at the bottom of the well, especially not one that has been dead for a century. Anya thinks the ghost is just what she needs to make her life better. But Anya’s new BFF isn’t telling the truth about how she ended up dead in a well. Can Anya trust her ghostly BFF or will Anya’s new friend turn into her worst nightmare?

Brosgal’s fantastic artwork brings Anya’s terrible teenage years to life. The illustrations capture Anya’s conflicting emotions and her angst as she navigates high school. After Anya’s family immigrated to America, Anya was bullied which caused her to turn away from her heritage. In order to fit in, Anya has learned to talk without an accent, as well as look like all of her classmates. However, Anya still struggles with making friends, she has insecurities about her body, and she is angry about life in general. Anya’s character is incredibly real—she is snarky, sarcastic; she sulks and sneers her way through life. Although Anya acts like many teens, she is not a role model. She’s rude to her family, unmotivated to do well in school, and sneaks out of class to smoke cigarettes. Despite Anya’s negative attitude, readers can still learn powerful lessons from the less-than-perfect teen.

Anya is self-centered and only thinks about herself. At first, when Anya meets her ghost, she just wants the ghost to disappear from her life. But when the ghost helps her cheat on a test, Anya thinks having a ghost around might not be so bad. Anya is so self-centered that she doesn’t even ask the ghost her name until the ghost becomes helpful. Anya also treats a Russian boy terribly. Anya doesn’t want to associate with the Russian boy at her school because he’s “fresh off the boat.”

The story also portrays teachers in a negative way. The teacher doesn’t notice when Anya sneaks out a classroom window. Another student complains about the P.E. teacher who makes them complete the physical fitness test because “he just likes watching us run around in these stupid skirts.” Then when Anya trips in class and the other girls jump over her, the teacher says, “Ladies! If we are all done losing ourselves in Anya’s derriere, we have a test to finish.”

Despite the negative aspects of the books, the story will make readers reconsider how they treat others. The story highlights the courage it takes for teens to embrace their differences instead of trying to blend in with the crowd. Anya’s Ghost uses real-life situations and humor to show how it feels to be an outsider. Anya wishes that she was skinnier, had more friends, and had a different last name. But thanks to Anya’s spooky, demanding ghost, Anya learns to appreciate her life, even if that means embracing her Russian heritage. Anya’s Ghost is comical, compassionate, creepy, and will engage even the most reluctant readers.

Sexual Content

  • Anya has a crush on Sean. She sees Sean in front of the school, kissing a girl.
  • When someone teases Anya, her friend tells the girl, “Hey, Katy, I heard about your nice moves in the boys’ bathroom today.”
  • Anya tells her friend that Sean talked to her. Anya’s friend replies, “Are you sure he wasn’t talking to your boobs?”
  • Anya fantasizes about kissing Sean. In the fantasy, the two dance, and then Sean says, “Oh Anya, let’s have an intense spiritual relationship for no believable reason.” To which Anya replies, “Oh, Sean, Take me away!”
  • To go to a party, Anya dresses in a short skirt and a low-cut shirt. When she looks at herself, she says, “this feels kind of slutty.” When Anya gets to the party, a boy tells her, “Your boobs look spectacular in that shirt.”
  • At a party, Anya finds Sean’s girlfriend outside a door. Anya can hear a girl giggling inside the room. Sean comes out of the room and briefly flirts with Anya. Then Sean tells his girlfriend, “Maybe a bit more of a signal next time, Liz?” Sean’s girlfriend reveals that the girl in the room is another boy’s girlfriend.
  • Anya decides she doesn’t want anything to do with Sean because “he’s upstairs making out with Amber.”

Violence

  • The ghost, Emily, tells Anya that she fell into a well and died, but “it didn’t hurt. But I couldn’t move or talk. I got very thirsty and then I died.
  • The ghost tells a story about how her parents were “very religious” and would offer to let passing people sleep in the barn. One man who “seemed like a good Christian” killed her parents. When Emily “woke up from a dream and came downstairs, he was standing over my parents’ bodies, ready to go upstairs for me.” Emily ran and fell down a well, where she died.
  • When Emily was alive, she had a crush on a man. When she sees the man with another woman, Emily killed them both. Emily says, “He said I was ugly! He broke my heart!”
  • The ghost tries to hurt Emily’s mother by turning on the stove burner and poisoning the food.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Anya and her friend skip class so they can smoke cigarettes.
  • During a conversation, Sean says that his friend gets “kind of freaky when he’s drunk.”
  • Anya goes to a party, where it’s implied that teens are drinking.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: ass, badass, crap, goddamn, and whore.
  • Anya’s friend tells her, “I heard about you down that freakin’ well for two days! That’s so badass.”
  • God, my God, and Oh my God are used as an exclamation frequently. When the ghost sneaks up on Anya, Anya says, “Jesus, Emily! You scared me to death!”
  • A girl tells Anya’s friend, “Screw you.”
  • When a girl teases Anya, her friend tells her, “forget about that whore, Anya.”
  • A girl says her brother said Sean was a dirtbag. The same girl says that Sean is a manwhore.
  • Anya says that Emily is “just a pissy cloud.”

Supernatural

  • Anya falls into a well and meets a ghost, who “can’t go very far from my bones.”

Spiritual Content

  • Anya falls into a well. When she finds food in her backpack, she says “Oh, Thank God.” Later, when someone finds her in the well, she again says, “Oh, Thank God.”
  • There is a picture of Jesus on the wall in Anya’s house. When Anya cusses, her mom tells Anya not to “swear in front of Jesus.”
  • Anya refuses to go to church with her family. When her mom tells Anya people are worried about her, Anya asks, “Because I’m sick or because I’m going to hell?” Later Anya tells the ghost that she doesn’t want to go to church because “orthodox church is weird.”

Night of the Zombie Zookeeper

Welcome to Kersville, a town with a spooky history and a collection of ghosts and spirits who are major mischief-makers. Most kids spend their days without ever seeing or dealing with a ghost, but some kids get stuck with a haunt. When that happens, they call Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol. There’s no job too spooky, icky, or risky for Desmond.

Andres Miedoso is not like that at all. He’s Desmond’s best friend and ghost patrol partner. Desmond Cole and he are excited to go on a field trip to the zoo. They have planned out each and every exhibit they want to go to. They want to make sure they see all the animals. When the field trip day comes, they head to the back of the zoo. But when they see a zombie feeding the giraffes, their plan goes out the window. Instead of enjoying the animals, they’re chasing a zombie.

When it comes to Desmond Cole and Andres, they are opposites. Desmond wants to chase after the zombie, while Andres wants to run in the other direction. Readers will love the two boys who chase the zombie around the zoo. The story has suspense, humor, and a little bit of gross factor—the zombie accidentally dumps goo on Andres. Even though the story features a zombie, it is not scary. Instead, Desmond and Andres discover that zombies make great zookeepers. After all, zombies “don’t mind cleaning up the really stinky number twos! Also, zombies are never grossed out by the slimy, icky food they have to feed the animals.”

Night of the Zombie Zookeeper is the fourth installment in the Desmond Cole series, however, none of the books need to be read in order. The story is told in nine short chapters with easy-to-read vocabulary which is perfect for emerging readers. A black-and-white illustration appears on almost every page. The often humorous illustrations use exaggerated facial expressions so readers can tell what the characters are feeling. Readers will laugh as Desmond and Andres find themselves in unexpected situations. Readers who enjoy Night of the Zombie Zookeeper should also try the Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • A zombie goes underneath water without scuba gear.

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Lonely Dead

For years, doctors have told Adele that she has schizophrenia, that the ghosts she sees are just a figment of her imagination. Adele is tired of living in a drug-induced fog and decides to ditch the drugs. But now the ghosts are back. When Adele finds her ex-best friend’s body and her ghost, she realizes the dead aren’t really dead and only she can talk to them.

When Tori’s body is found in a shallow grave, the police focus their investigation on Adele. As the prime suspect in the murder, Adele decides to find the killer, which means working with Tori’s ghost. When Tori begins questioning others, danger comes from all directions. Will she be able to find the murderer or will the murderer silence Adele forever?

The Lonely Dead has an interesting premise but lacks suspense or any sense of urgency. Adele lacks personality and common sense. In her search to find the killer, the clues come too easily and she makes unwise choices. It is difficult to believe that she would trust a murder suspect just because the suspect is good-looking. Even though Tori’s death should add a tragic tone to the story, it is hard to feel sorry for the self-centered girl who was mean to everyone and lacked self-control.

The story teaches about the dangers of alcohol and the importance of being aware of one’s surroundings. However, the author takes the idea of a blackout too far. Tori does not know who killed her because she blacked out, and Adele wonders if she blacked out and then killed Tori. Not only is this unrealistic, but Adele’s confusion borders on the absurd.

Adele is surrounded by turmoil; both her mother and grandmother died due to mental disorders, her harsh grandfather gives her little support, and she is friendless. The story focuses too much on Adele’s inner monologue as well as her past struggles. Instead of being interesting, the family’s background takes away from the murder mystery and adds little to the story. To make matters worse, the police, the student teacher, and the psychologist are all portrayed in a negative light.

One good point of the story is the focus on Tori’s bad behavior. Adele points out that Tori hurt people when she ignored them. Adele said, “You might not ever have laid a hand on them, but it still hurts when someone acts like you’re not even there.” You may want to avoid The Lonely Dead since the murder mystery lacks interesting characters, surprises, or a sense of urgency.

Sexual Content

  • Adele goes to kiss a boy. “My improvised plan is to cover his mouth with my thumbs and then kiss them. It’s a game kids used to play. . . And instead of kissing my thumbs, I press my lips against Charlie’s warm, soft ones.”
  • While playing hide and seek at a party, Adele ends up in a closet with Tori’s boyfriend, Luke. They kiss. Adele, “found my mouth suddenly pressed against his. We weren’t making a sound, but it was like everything inside of me was singing and shouting. I was alive and kissing. . . Under my hands, his shoulders were taunt with muscle. My nose filled with his sharp smell that was at once familiar and not. His mouth tasted like beer.” Tori finds them.
  • At the party, Tori was “dirty dancing with some of the guys, even at one point dropping the straps on her dress and flashing everyone.”
  • Someone says that Tori was “all over Ethan” even though he has a girlfriend.
  • Tori implied that she had a sexual relationship with a student teacher and “that it was her idea.”
  • One of the character’s dads was cheating on his wife, so she kicks him out of the house.
  • Luke kisses Adele. She thinks, “Luke’s lips are so soft, but then they press into me hard. I freeze. My heart pulses in my ears. My skin feels tight. It’s like I’m drowning, like there isn’t enough air.”
  • Adele kisses Charlie. “I put my arms around him. Then I close my eyes and press my mouth to Charlie’s. Just as I remember, his lips are soft and warm, and he tastes like peppermint.”

Violence

  • The story revolves around discovering who murdered Tori. When Adele finds the body, she discovers a “dark line that runs across her throat. She wasn’t choked with hands, but with something like a thin rope. Other, shallower red marks run from just under her chin to the hollow of her throat. Tori must have clawed her own skin, trying to save herself. On the back of her neck, the dark line ends in two purple-red oval bruises.”
  • Tori said her father never “leaves bruises,” but “he’s pushed me a few times when I made him mad. Once he grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go to a party.”
  • Adele meets the ghost of a prostitute that was killed by a customer. The ghost tells Adele, “The guy who did it was one of my regulars.”
  • When Adele’s grandfather discovers that Adele has stopped taking her medication, he slaps her. “My mouth falls open as the blood rushes to my stinging skin.”
  • A girl accuses Adele of killing Tori, then pushes Adele. Someone throws something at Adele. Luke steps in to protect Adele, and fists are thrown. “Then Luke hits him square in the nose. Justin staggers back, blood slicking his upper lip.” A girl slips and hurts her arm.
  • The person who killed Tori tries to kill Adele. “He shifts his grip, and the leash tightens even further, making me cough.” Adele hits the person in the throat and is able to escape. There is a chase and Adele is able to hit the person with a board. “It hits his head with a sound like a cantaloupe falling to the floor.” The person is arrested.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Adele is walking through the park, a girl calls out to her. Adele thinks, “I’m afraid of homeless guys, of drunk guys, of guys who might try to drag me into the bushes. Not of some girl who knows my name.”
  • Adele wonders if her friend is drunk or on drugs.
  • Adele sees ghosts, but her doctor and grandfather think she is schizophrenic. She is supposed to take pills to keep her from being delusional. Adele doesn’t like taking drugs because they “bleed the color from everything. How they make me feel dizzy and drowsy and sick to my stomach.”
  • Adele attends Tori’s party, where teens are drinking alcohol. The ghost of Tori doesn’t remember much about the party because she was drinking “shots.” When Adele saw Tori at the party, “she had a glass in her hand, and half of those times she was shouting ‘Shots’ then tossing down her drink.” The class discusses the dangers of drinking including alcohol poisoning and blackouts.
  • A class assignment asks students to think about Dwight. He “drinks on weekends, he turns into a different person. He is belligerent and aggressive, and often gets into fights.”
  • At the funeral viewing, “cigarette and even pot smoke lingers in the air, and a few of my classmates are tipping back flasks I’m pretty sure hold more than just water.”

Language

  • Oh God and Oh my God are used several times as exclamations.
  • Hell is used three times. For example, when Tori finds Adele kissing her boyfriend, she yells, “What the hell? What the actual hell?”
  • Crap, damn, and pissed are used once.
  • Tori calls Luke a jerk.

Supernatural

  • Adele can see and talk to ghosts of people and animals. The dead are tethered to their body by a cord that runs to their bodies ’ skull. Tori says that some ghosts, “who’ve been here a long time say that folks from really old graves keep getting fainter and fainter. A couple have just disappeared. And people who’re cremated—they say you never see them at all, even if the remains are buried here on the grounds.”
  • Adele meets the ghost of a girl who died on the Oregon Trail. The ghost tells her that wolves would dig up the graves. While on the trail she saw, “an arm lying in the wagon ruts. Just an arm. We never could find the grave from which it came.”

Spiritual Content

  • Tori wonders if she is in “limbo.” But Adele tells her, “I think the Catholics did away with that.” Then Tori asks, “So is this hell? Being stuck here with no one to talk to besides you?”
  • After Tori dies, she realizes how painful it is to have people ignore her, and she says, “Maybe God has a sense of humor.”

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