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.
- 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!”
- 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. . .”
- 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.