A Curious Tale of the In-Between

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

Looking for your next stay-up-late, just-a-minute-mom, only-one-more-chapter-I-swear, read?  Look no further.

The circumstances of Pram’s birth have left her a bit different. As long as could remember she’s been able to see ghosts, one of whom happens to be her closest friend.  Since her mother died at her birth and her father has never been around, Pram lives with her terribly overprotective aunts who worry about her dreadfully.  In fact, they have shied away from sending her to school, worried that she won’t fit in with the other kids.

But when the schoolmarm appears at their home and insists that Pram attend school, they don’t have a choice.  Off she goes.  Soon enough, she befriends Clarence, a boy who has recently lost his mother.  Their losses and interest in the spirit world soon bonds them together. Clarence repeatedly seeks out people who might help him contact his mother and Pram is looking for a friend to help her find her father, so they become a team with Pram’s ghostly friend Felix forming a jealous third wheel.

In her effort to help Clarence, Pram meets mysterious, Lady Savant and soon things are spiraling out of her control.  What was meant to be an adventure to seek her father has taken  a dangerous turn.  Pram will learn much about her connection to the spiritual world, but it will take a lot of save her from the evil that awaits her.

With all of the ghosts and adventure, the heart of this story is about friendship, love and home.  Clarence and Pram’s friendship is almost a pre-romance in a terribly chaste age appropriate way.  Pram’s search for her family is resolved in a very heartwarming way and one that is maybe a bit less pat and traditional than you might expect.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is terribly hard to put down.  In the early chapters, intrigue about Pram’s circumstances and abilities keep you turning the pages.  Later you long to know if Pram or Clarence will find the parental contact they are seeking.  And of course, once Pram is in danger, you just can’t rest until you have a resolution.  It’s very much a “oh, just one more chapter” read, where you find out that one more chapter somehow turned into 4 or 5 more chapters and it’s way past your bedtime.  So if you like that sort of thing, the kind of book that you can’t bear to stop reading, then this is definitely for you.

Age Recommendation: Grades 5-8. Oh certainly, many fourth graders will read and love this, but because there is a suicide (which is sort of talked around a bit, and might be just vague enough that younger readers would miss it), I would hold off until fifth, unless the reader is well known to you and you know they can handle it.  I also very much appreciated the subtle references to depression as an illness.  It isn’t often written about, especially not in books that are generally lighter in tone, but it is something lots of kids deal with in real life.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Pram’s mother fell in love with a sailor and “that was how Pram was conceived”.  She is told that she’ll have a “lovely shape” and be an “early bloomer” by an old woman. Pram is teased about a “boyfriend”. There is handholding.  A waitress makes a comment about Pram being a bit young to be looking for a sailor.  Her intent is a lewd joke, but Pram does not understand. This book also features a friend-triangle and the most itty bitty age appropriate fledgling romance.  It’s never quite clear that the people in question will become more than friends but their importance to each other is not downplayed.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – The opening scene explains how a pregnant woman was found dead, hung from a tree.  A girl can see and speak with ghosts.  She can perceive the dead’s influence all around her.  A character’s mother died in a car accident.  Old people die. A woman supposedly can communicate with the dead.  A person likely committed suicide.  A person nearly caused the death of another while taking their own life.  There’s a mention of people who do “unspeakable things” to children. Some is trapped in a container under water and left to drown. One ghost has a blackened and bloody temple and died in a fire.  An animal is hit by a car.  A girl sings a song about a poor lamb having its eyes picked out.  A woman’s skull shows through her skin. A child nearly dies.   A child falls into a ravine and drowns.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – A girl is put in a trance and controlled by someone.  Pram’s mother’s life was quite unhappy. She stopped speaking.  A baby is born silent and gray.  People are kidnapped.  A child’s perception of reality is altered. Boys are in a fire. A girl enters a memory of another person; the memory is of a surgery that was done without that person’s consent.

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GHOSTS

Ghosts by Sonia Goldie / Illustrated by Marc Boutavant

This was entirely not what I expected.  Large and slim like a picture book, Ghosts features ghosts that are arguably, adorable. Visually, they resemble balloon animals and cuddly toys, a bit transparent and puffy around the edges, but definitely zoological in appearance.

But the writing is something else entirely.  This is not meant as a read aloud for the littles, no matter what the cover and shape might indicate.  Inside are mini biographies of a wide variety of ghosts.  They are reasonably dense and complex, likely on a second or beginning of third grade reading level.  Which is just as well, because these ghosts are a bit creepy.

While the illustrations do much to add levity and diffuse fear, the ghosts will nonetheless cause some younger readers distress.  Quite frequently the book explains that ghosts are right next to you, whether it be while you watch tv, or lurking in your bathroom, sitting beside you at the dinner table, or hiding under your bed waiting to slip into your nightmares.  Goldie has also placed ghosts into your garage, your washing machine, the telephone, your basement…basically we’re looking at a situation where if your child is easily spooked, that child will never walk around your house alone again.

The writing is quite clever and some things did make me laugh, like the ghost of gray days making you grumpy unless you get up and do something.  The real question is trying to find the right target audience.  I would say this is absolutely a book that requires that you know your reader.

Age Recommendation: Grades 2-4.  I think some second and third grade readers might appreciate the clever actions of the ghosts without being too afraid of them.  Obviously, you know your reader the best, so judge accordingly.  I would caution librarians and teachers from suggesting this for readers (or listeners) in Grades 2 or lower unless they know the reader in question is comfortable with this type of material.  I actually think fourth graders might enjoy the playfulness of this and it would make a fun writing activity to have them create their own ghost and devise a bio for it.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – There are ghosts, but actually death is never mentioned in conjunction with them.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – The pictures mitigate things somewhat, but some of the ghost descriptions lean creepy rather than harmless or humorous.

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The Jumbies

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

This is an absolute must-buy for children’s librarians and elementary schools!

Forget trick-or-treating and bags full of candy, All Hallows Eve is when spirits and jumbies can mix freely with regular people. Corinne is tough to scare, but even she can’t quite shake off the creepy feeling she got when she noticed yellow eyes watching her from the forest.

In the days that follow, a fairy tale unfolds, complete with  a mysterious and dangerous beautiful stranger, a dark and foreboding forest, a witch, a helpful frog who repays a favor, and the powerful protection of a mother’s love.

But this is not your standard fairy tale.  Baptiste has blended together the jumbie stories she heard growing up on Trinidad with Haitian folklore to create an exciting, deliciously scary adventure.  Not only is it a welcome change of pace from the usual fairy tales that have been retold and retold, it’s got all the right stuff to captivate readers who don’t usually go for fairy tales.

Corinne lives close to the forest, a place rumored to be full of jumbies and evil spirits. She doesn’t share the fears of most of the villagers, but her strength will soon be tested. When a beautiful stranger appears at the market bargaining with a witch, Corinne and her friends are concerned, but when the woman later turns up in Corinne’s house, showing a marked interest in her papa, the nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach turns to full blown worry.  Soon she’ll find herself with no one to turn to except her new friends, a girl named Dru that she met at the market, and two orphaned boys who are often up to mischief.  As the stranger grows more powerful and more sinister, Corinne and her friends must act to save their island before it’s too late!

The depiction of  friendships in The Jumbies is definitely a strong point of the book. One of my favorite things is when a character lashes out in pain, fear and anger and her friends won’t listen to her defeatist talk.  For readers to learn that friends are capable of that kind of support, and that friends should be the kind of people who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself is a powerful message.

Great for: I found this to be just the exact right amount of kid-scary.  There’s plenty of suspense and things that go bump in the night, but at the same time, the children in the story are both capable, and backed by loving adults.  It does an excellent job of evoking that sort of goosebumpy feeling, hopefully without causing too many little ones to sleep with the light on.  The familiar fairy tale tropes should offer sufficient reassurance that things will turn out okay, despite the baddies. That said, for the easily scared, daytime reading might be the safest choice.

This will also be magic for readers who love fairy tales and are growing weary of the same choices.  It doesn’t just offer a twist or retelling, it introduces a world that is unfamiliar to many readers and is full of its own excitement and magic.  Readers who find themselves longing for more of Corinne’s world might enjoy moving on to Bayou Magic.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3-8.  My third graders would have adored this and it would have been continuously checked out. I think older readers who are reading below grade level would find plenty to interest them and plenty to discuss.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – There’s brief discussion by the children that adults tend to pair off.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore –  A girl alone in the woods mutters “I’m going to kill those boys” in frustration.   Corinne’s mother has passed away.  It is All Hallow’s Eve when spirits and Jumbies make mischief. Someone is told that they will suffer if they do not help.  A Jumbie pulls on children’s feet when they are in the water, trying to drown them.  A jumbie and a woman struggle and fight.  A fish is gutted for dinner. A child is cut by a rock. A jumbie kills a small animal with its bare hands and then eats it bones and fur and all. A type of jumbie lures men into the forest and kills them.  Someone is pushed into burning hot spilled food.  A child narrowly misses being hit with a rolling pin.  The jumbies drowned people at sea. A child attacks a jumbie.  The jumbie is not hurt.  Another type of jumbie sheds its skin as a child holds its hand, leaving the child holding the empty shell as it prepares to attack with its body of fire. A fisherman is bleeding where he has been clawed. A firey jumbie is used to incinerate another type of jumbie. Villager have been hit with rocks.  The children survey a battlefield after the fight.  Victims have been dragged off and you can’t tell whether or not the victims were human.  A girl has a cut that is bleeding. A creature catches fire.  It howls in agony.  A girl’s hair catches on fire.  A jumbie sings about rotting bodies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Corinne has been told stories about strange creatures.  There is a witch with powerful magic.  Two children live alone.  There are things called douens which are spirits that steal children.  They chase a human child.  Magic is used to control someone’s thoughts.  Slaves escape slave ships. A dog-like jumbie called a Lagahoo chases children.  Several children is taken by the douens. A child’s father is incapacitated by evil magic. A live jumbie’s body is full of insects crawling in and out of it.

 

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Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Sierra is frustrated.  No one will tell her the whole truth. Manny asks her to paint a huge dragon mural on the side of a building and recruit a Haitian guy in her class to help her out. Her grandfather, largely incapacitated since a stroke is suddenly having lucid moments and giving her cryptic messages. And if she was expecting her mom to come through for her, this is not the time.  Sierra knows she has a role to play in the strange goings on but she just doesn’t know what it is yet.

The spirit world of Brooklyn is in turmoil.  Once art, music, and spirits were magically intertwined, but as of late, someone has been using these gifts against the old masters. People are being killed and spirits are being enslaved for nefarious purposes.  Sierra knows she must protect those she loves and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.  Luckily, the Haitian guy she’s supposed to team up with is not only artistic and gifted when it comes to spirits, he’s also incredibly cute.  And as always, Sierra’s friends are there for her. Working together, they will fight to set their part of the city to rights.

Older creates a rich picture of Sierra’s Brooklyn, sharing bits of the cultural heritage of her family and friends.  Many of them have roots in the Caribbean and Older shares how each of their distinct cultures has a relationship with the spirits and ancestors.

Her friends, even those that play a more minor role in the book have distinct personalities and interests.  When Sierra needs backup, a few of her friends choose not to come along while others refuse to leave her side.  One teen heads home with a friend while her girlfriend is determined to help Sierra.  The friends that skip out don’t stop being her friends though, which is something I really liked.  Older doesn’t decide to destroy friendships and relationships over a single moment.  In books so often, moments like that would mean the end of the connection, but in real life, friendship contain nuance and I loved seeing that here.

I was also impressed with Older’s ability to weave social issues throughout the book without it ever become a book with a focus of social issues.  Sierra does a lot of thinking about racism and her own comfort level with her skin.  The teens notice their neighborhood and surrounding areas being gentrified, some to the point of excluding the families that have always lived there.  In one area people refuse Sierra help because they assume she’s a “drunk Puerto Rican” and not a teen in danger and distress.  A pair of her friends experience harassment because they are lesbians.  But the main focus of the book is the damage that is done when one person, through cultural appropriation does an immense amount of harm to the people whose culture he professed to adore.  It’s an interesting and important message and one I personally haven’t read about very often.  It would make a marvelous discussion topic.

Great for: Lovers of urban fantasy and books with lots of action and adventure.  I particularly liked the amount of strength and power in the hands of a teenage girl.  If you have readers that liked Scarlett Undercover, I heartily recommend they try this as well. This will also capture the attention of readers who like books about the occult as their are plenty of spirits, bodies possessed by spirits and other types of evil about.

Age Recommendation: The book is reasonably dense, but the content is appropriate for Grades 7 and up.  It would have to be a motivated and interested seventh grade reader though. Spanish is used throughout and is not always clearly translated after.  This will be a treat for Spanish speakers and good practice for reading comprehension for those who are not.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A teen thinks another teen is cute.  Teens date, including same sex relationships.  Teens have crushes on other teens.  Sierra’s brother has pictures of half-naked zombie girls on his walls.  Teens date. There are cheek kisses and neck kisses.  There is provocative dancing. Paintings kiss.  A teen imagines being kissed.  A teen removes his shirt.
Profanity – “ass”, “gawd”, “damn”, “jackass”, “dang”, “coño”, “cojones”, “crap”,  a teen flips someone off, “God”, “asshole”, “effed”, “Jesus”, “hell”, “jerk”, “oh lord”, “comemierda”, “bastards”,
Death, Violence and Gore –  Ambulances on the street lead people to assume there has been (another) shooting. A teen’s brother was killed by the police.  A woman spent three weeks in the hospital due to injuries.  A man may or may not be joking about having a gun in his trunk.  A man dabbles in the occult.  People communicate with spirits.  There are some that put spirits into dead bodies to control them.  A teen’s grandmother died of liver cancer.  Two kids were injured while riding a bike.  A teen slaps someone across the face.  A teen is sexually harassed by a passing driver.  Teens discover the body of someone they knew and cared about.  Shadowshaped art shows men with axes and machetes.  People are armed with a shovel, an axe, a baseball bat. People need to fight walking corpses.  When hit, the bodies sort of collapse and flesh falls off. Someone pushes in a corpses eyes which squish. People fight chalk-dust phantoms. A man throws a teen against a wall repeatedly.  A man discusses killing people. A woman is injured in a struggle.  A demon’s claws slash a teen’s face.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Adults drink rum.  An adult has a smoke.  People drink at a club.  A musician is referred to as drunk.  We do not ever see teens drinking. A man smokes cigars. A building was a crack house.
Frightening or Intense Things – Someone answers vaguely when asked if someone is dead.  Sierra’s grandfather gives out cryptic warnings.  Sierra is pursued by someone who may not be alive.  Sierra’s grandfather has suffered a stroke; he is sometimes lucid, but more often not. There are descriptions of how it affects him and about what he was like in the hospital that may be upsetting to readers who are triggered or bothered by hospital scenes.  There are some dark shadowy things that attack.  Some of the bad guys have the ability to enslave people’s spirits.

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Ghosts in the House!

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

It’s possible that this is the cutest book about ghosts ever made.  If you want to send a little Halloween treat in the mail to a small child you know, this is just the thing!

A girl moves into a haunted house and is delighted to find it filled with ghosts.  With a bit of know-how and a lot of basic home-economics skills, she quickly puts those ghosts to work (but I won’t spoil the book for you…I’ll let you see how!)

Kohara’s woodblock artwork is striking and whimsical, without the faintest scary touch. The black printing on orange pages will scratch your Halloween itch and the adorable ghosts will have your little ones (and maybe you) clamoring for your own set of house haunters.

Age Recommendation: My toddler loved it and I expect this would be a big hit all the way up through Kindergarten and first grade.  It’s quite short and makes a great read aloud, possibly even before bed if it has been properly vetted as “not scary” earlier in the day.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – There’s a ghost.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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How I Became a Ghost

How I Became A Ghost by Tim Tingle

Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before.

Tingle’s opening line immediately lets you know that this is not a typical human meets ghost(s) and spooky antics ensue type story.  Our narrator is ten years old and not yet a ghost.

The story tells of Isaac and his family are forced from their homes to begin their journey on the Trail of Tears, a journey that will cost Isaac his life.  If you have any expectation that this will be excessively sad or dull or dry or scholarly or depressing, erase those thoughts from your mind.  While it very clearly highlights just how tragic the Trail of Tears was, the focus of the story is not the atrocities visited upon the Choctaw.  Instead it’s an adventure featuring a dramatic rescue, a strong sense of family, a talking dog, a shapeshifter who can become a panther and yes, many, many, ghosts.

The ghosts are one of the most interesting parts of the story.  Tingle creates a juxtaposition of truly horrid nature of the deaths the Choctaw suffer with these benevolent ghosts.  There is not one moment in this book where there ghosts are anything other than supportive, helpful, reassuring and full of love.  The culture of death shown in this book is something that would benefit many children, especially those who have experienced loss.  Who wouldn’t prefer the thought of being warmly comforted and protected by departed loved ones to the dominant culture portrayal of ghosts as terrifying.

Aside from the fact that this just a really good story, it’s actually just so very important that children read this book to learn about this period in American History.  What is usually relegated to a few paragraphs in a dry history comes alive, humanizing the Choctaw, bringing them to life so that modern readers can truly understand the scale of the atrocities committed. These were people with families and lives and hope and dreams and their descendants live today with the knowledge and consequences of the actions that were taken at that time.  Teachers, if you have the opportunity to use this in your classroom, you will not be disappointed and I am certain your students will not be either.

Age Recommendation: Grades 4-8.  Because the violence in this book is both frequent and based on historical fact, some younger readers might be upset by the content. That said, I have taught many third graders who would have adored this and would have been find with the content given the way that Tingle presented it. You know your children best, so if you think your third grader would be okay with it, I do not believe the reading level would be too difficult for students with strong comprehension skills.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – We learn at the outset that our narrator will die during the course of the book. He also has the ability to see ghosts.  Men use shotguns for hunting.  Men deliberately scrape their skin on tree bark to cause themselves to bleed as a way to say goodbye to their land.  The narrator sees how people die.  Some are burned alive, others covered with sores, some drowned. Women cut their feet on sharp rocks in the water allowing the blood to rise up.  Men are shot with rifles.  A child’s feet freeze to the ground.  The child’s skin peels away when the child walks, and the feet bleed into the snow. A child dies; when the ghost version of her is seen, her face is swollen and her eyes were tiny slits.  A child is killed by a wolf.  The child’s body is covered in blood.  Parents carry the bodies of their children along the trail because they will not leave their bones behind.  A Choctaw teen is bound by the wrists and the rope is tied to a tree pulling the teens arms overhead.  Soldiers are concerned they might be hung by their leader.  The job of the bonepickers is sacred but the descriptions may be upsetting to some.  They wait for animals to clean the bones of their dead, then they bring the bones in and pick them completely clean and wash and scrub the bones for burial. The Choctaw who can become a panther is urged to bring a small bloodied animal to the bonepickers. A soldier threatens to kill someone.  A soldier is hit by another soldier and falls to the ground bleeding.  A woman is injured when icy branches are shot down by soldiers.  A wagon is burned with people inside.  A man is thrown from his horse, hits his head on a rock and bleeds. A wolf is killed by a panther, its body bloodied.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – House and other buildings are set on fire. The narrator speaks with ghosts and they offer him guidance.  Parents survive the deaths of their children.  Their grief is overwhelming. A girl is kidnapped.  Another Choctaw is held captive, his feet and hands bound.  Soldiers laugh over the deaths they caused.  Blankets are burned, leaving Choctaws with no protection from the cold.

 

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Anya’s Ghost

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

What teenager couldn’t use a little help with high school? When Anya finds herself with a ghostly pal, she is not exactly thrilled, but when her ghost seems to have all the answers, how can she resist!  The ghost can help her get ahead in school, catch the attention of the boy she likes; Anya is hooked.  But surprisingly enough, you may not want to leave your fate to a ghost with a mysterious and tragic past.

Anya’s Ghost is absolutely fantastic.  I love Anya with her insecurities and flippant manner.  The illustrations are terrific, the kind that will make readers appreciate black and white.  The book is exactly the right mix of humor, eeevil (if you’ve seen any Austin Powers movies you know how I want you to say that) and warmth.  The best thing however, is that when push comes to shove, Anya pushes back.  This is a teen who doesn’t just want to get the guy, she wants to get the right guy.  And her family may irritate the heck out of her, but she will defend them ferociously when necessary.  In the end, Anya’s Ghost gives “peer” pressure a fascinating and alarming twist that is completely engaging.

Age Recommendation: Anya does lots of things that I don’t exactly admire in a teen: she cuts class, smokes, lies to her mother, thinks about her weight, but she’s relatable and real and you’re given enough insight into her feelings to get why these things happen.  As such, I personally wouldn’t have any problem with readers in Grades 7 and up reading this book!

Great for: This is one I just loved, so I’d recommend it for so many different readers, but I think a lot of kids who feel like outsiders, particularly ones who have come to the US as immigrants will enjoy reading about Anya’s experiences.  The graphic novel format also may assist in increasing understanding for readers who struggle.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A woman’s cleavage is drawn. A teen is teased about a boyfriend (the person in question is not her boyfriend).  A couple kisses (this is shown). A teen is asked if she is “a hot chick”.  A teen’s underpants are shown. A comment is made about a girl’s moves in the boys’ bathroom. This is a tease and may not reflect anything she’s actually done. Teens discuss the possibility that guys are talking to their boobs. The ghost sees someone’s boob in a magazine.  A teen compliments another teen’s boobs. A teen is with another teen’s girlfriend while his girlfriend waits outside.
Profanity – “oh my God”, “crap”, “freakin'”, “bitchin'”, “screw you”, “whore”, “ass”, “goddamn”, “hell”, “manwhore”, “sucky”, “lame”, “Jesus”, “pissy”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A skeleton is shown.  The ghost explains how it died (a fall, then paralysis, then died of thirst). A teen gets beat up at lunch. Children used to be beaten by canes.  There is some false information regarding deaths, but I’m reporting it all without commenting which is true and which is not. Someone’s fiance was killed in a war.  Some people were murdered. A knife is shown in the illustrations. A couple was murdered in an arson.  There are other attempted murders, with poison, gas.  A woman is made to fall down the stairs. There are some reasonably creepy illustrations of the ghost merged with a skeleton toward the end of the book.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Teens smoke.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

 

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Leo: A Ghost Story

Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

I grabbed this one because I love the illustrator.  Christian Robinson did the pictures for the amazing Last Stop on Market Street so he’s pretty much sold me on books he’s worked on.  In Leo: A Ghost Story I loved seeing how he handled a ghost, real people and some imaginary friends.  As always, Robinson draws a cast with diversity.  Always a huge plus in my book.

Mac Barnett presents a fresh take on making friends and what’s important in a friendship. Leo has been living alone, but when a family forces him to give up his home, he sets out to wander.  As it turns out he finds a new home and a new friend in the city.

While it’s not actually scary and avoids all mention of how someone gets to be a ghost (especially a child ghost), there are some parts that younger readers might find unsettling.  Some will ask questions about ghosts.  There’s a home invasion which done as innocuously as possible with a “sneak thief” stealing some silverware, but that still might worry some younger readers particularly if they already have fears about this type of thing.

Age Recommendation: Elementary school is probably the best audience for this. While my toddler seems okay with it, I suspect he’s not catching it all.  For listeners younger than KindergartenI enjoyment and understanding of this is going to be highly kid dependent.  I expect that school age children will take away some nice lessons about being a friend.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – There’s a ghost.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – A burglar breaks into someone’s house.

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Spoooooooooky

I DO THIS FOR YOU.  I am easily the most fraidy of fraidy cats but it is October after all, and as much as I would like to indulge my constant and deep longing for all witch books all the time, I am going to do ghosts instead.  It seems only equitable.  Be warned of course, that since I do scare so easily I will not be reviewing anything that is too deep into the horror side of things.  Sleep is very dear to me and I refuse to shun it solely for book reviewing purposes, so if it seems like I’ll be too scared to sleep at night, out it goes.

Thanks to the kindly people of Twitter, I’ve lined up an excellent selection of books with characters from all different backgrounds, so expect plenty of diversity and expect some rave reviews.  I am really excited about what’s to come!

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Dirty Little Secrets

Dirty Little Secrets by c. j. omololu

Dirty Little Secrets is like a TLC reality show, infused with a touch of extra melodrama and an uncomfortable romantic subplot. In other words, some people will be riveted and others will definitely set it aside annoyed.  Lucy has slowly carved out a life for herself at her school. She has a best friend and a cute boy who seems interested in her.  But her happiness is precarious.  She is certain that if anyone learned the truth about her home life, they would reject her unequivocally.  Her fears lead her to lie repeatedly to protect her secrets, but nothing will compare to the lies and deceptions that become necessary when tragedy strikes.

When Lucy discovers her mother has passed away, she is consumed with keeping her mother’s hoarding secret and so, she tells no one.  Determined to clear out the house enough to show some semblance of normality, Lucy spends the day cleaning, uncovering her past and unpacking her feelings.  It’s hard for me to imagine someone who would respond in this manner the death of a parent.  While Lucy envisions the future and processes her past, she spends very little time actually considering the fact that she is in the presence of a dead body.  At times her actions seem completely callous, which makes her a little less likable and detracts from book overall.

There aren’t many depictions of hoarding in YA, even though I’ve read two in the past month.  The danger in this is that when something is only one of a few available narratives, some people take it to be representative of all people in a certain circumstance.  In this particularly case, Lucy’s mother shown as very unlikeable and actually abusive.  It makes her, and therefore her condition, less sympathetic.  I also struggle with the fact that both this book and the other that I read showed a divorced family in which the hoarder had full custody. I cannot imagine a parent abandoning their child to that.

Age Recommendation: Readers in Grades 7 and up.  The disturbing bits of the content will definitely upset some readers, but I expect it’s highly personal who would be bothered by this sort of thing.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A teen’s father is with a 29 year old who is close in age to one of his children.  The teen and her friend mention him “doing” her. A teen has a crush on someone.  Someone made out with someone else.  A teen puts his arms around someone’s shoulder.  A seventh grader suspects a friend might have a crush on her older brother.   The friend called him “hot”.  An adult has a new boyfriend every week.  There is kissing.
Profanity – “piss off”, “hell”, “jerk”, “crap”, “ass”, “God”, “screw up”, “asshole”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A teen speculates that another teen is hit by her father.  A teen’s parent dies.  She is the one to discover the body and examines it thoroughly.  Therefore there’s a description of the dead body and some speculation about what the dead person’s last moments were like.  A parent is badly injured in a car accident and is hospitalized for a few weeks.  A woman hits another in the face with a walker. A teen discovers a long dead pet.  A kid gets hit in the head by a stack of falling books. He has a bad bump. Someone drags a dead body. A teen holds her dead parent’s hand.  Someone cuts her hand on a vase.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A teen speculates that another teen might be stoned on pills.  She speculates that another teen might have an alcoholic parent.  A teen got drunk at a party.  A teen smokes a cigarette, she talks about how they help you lose weight, which is also gross. Teens drink beer at a party. A teen does show another teen how to drink root beer instead without people noticing.  A teen’s mother had a drinking problem, including a DUI that nearly killed someone.
Frightening or Intense Things – Lucy does a lot of lying to cover up her home situation.  She also lies to a sibling about her mother’s death.  A parent is abusive.  A child is allowed into a house with a dead body, but isn’t told about the dead body.  There’s an incident of arson.

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