Thursday, March 15, 2018

Spooky Books

35603219Ghislain, Gary. A Bad Night for Bullies (The Goolz Next Door #2)
March 13th 2018 by Boyds Mills Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Harold and his mother live a quiet life in a seaside town. Even though Harold has been in a wheelchair since an accident when he was young, he manages quite well, and the fact that bully Alex treats him badly is the only problem he seems to have. When horror writer Frank Goolz and his daughters Ilona and Suzie move in next door, life starts to get more exciting. Harold thinks he sees a monster in their house, but the Goolz deny it, until Ilona seeks out Harold to tell him the truth-- they possess a magical stone with very strong powers, and their father and Suzie have been trying to use it to bring back the girls' mother, It is having bad effects on Mr. Goolz health, so Ilona wants Harold to hide the stone from Suzie. He finds that he can use the stone to enable himself to walk, but the side effects are terrible. As Harold and the girls try to investigate the monsterous woman who was in their house and is now terrorizing the town, they uncover old secrets that involve many residents, including bully Alex's father. Harold's mother is worried and wants him to disassociate himself with the Goolz, but life is so much more exciting now, especially since he and Ilona like each other, that he doesn't want to listen to her. Will Harold and his new neighbors be able to put a long perplexing mystery to rest, and will there be others that they need to tackle?
Strengths: This was a fairly good paranormal mystery for middle grade readers. It's a good length, and the formatting is solid. The plot moves along quickly. I particularly liked Ilona and Harold's relationship, which was very sweet and typical of middle school romances. The plots involving the stone and the  old mystery wove together nicely, and there were lots of creepy, scary moments.
Weaknesses: Perhaps it is because the author wasn't raised in the US, but there were a lot of moments that didn't seem quite right. The school scenes are a bit odd, and Harold's wheelchair use didn't feel as accurate as Vaught's portray of Super Max did. (Pushing the wheelchair down the steps and then getting in the lift? Don't most wheelchair lifts take the wheelchair? The initial accident also didn't convince me.) I would almost guarantee that Harold's mother would not have let him sleep over at the Goolz on a school night, or any other night. Not as a seventh grade boy. I'm not sure if middle grade readers will pick up on these things, but they bothered me.
What I really think: I can see readers of Mary Downing Hahn's work being intrigued by the plot, but this may be a bit of a hard sell, since the cover and title leave a bit to be desired.

Ventrella, Kim. Skeleton Tree.
September 26th 2017 by Scholastic Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

 Stanly's life is difficult-- his father has moved out, and his mother is trying hard to make ends meet as a clerk at Walgreen's. Stanly and his sister Miren  are fortunate to have Ms. Francine, who is from Kyrgyzstan, babysit for them. Miren has been very ill with some sort of respiratory problem. One day, Stanly finds a bone growing in the yard. It looks suspiciously like a skeleton, and as the days pass, the bone does grow into a full skeleton that Miren names "Princey". Only the children can see the skeleton, but Ms. Francine takes the children's concern about him seriously. Stanly and his friend Jaxon hope that they can submit a picture to the Young Discoverers competition and win the prize money, but strange things happen when they try to photograph the skeleton. As Miren's illness worsens, Stanly comes to the conclusion that while the skeleton seems to make Miren feel better, this might not be the best thing. With the help of Ms. Francine, he tries to come to terms with what is happening with his sister.

For a book dealing with the impending death of a child, this was surprisingly readable. I wish that Miren's ailment had been given a name; throughout most of the book, I assumed she was suffering the effects of cystic fibrosis, but toward the end of the book it is hinted that she actually has some sort of cancer.

Jaxon and Stanly's attempts at photographing the skeleton, and their insistence on entering the competition so that Stanly's family can have some more money are admirable and realistic. It is very easy to suspend disbelief and accept that there is, in fact, a skeleton growing in Stanly's yard. Ventrella gives enough details about trying to hide the skeleton from neighbors and delivery boys, and tells us more about Miren's interactions with it once we start to understand the true nature of its being.

Ms. Francine is an interesting character; since the mother is so frantic and harried, Francine is a great, philosophic counterpart who has time to explain things to the children and take them on fun outings for which their mother does not have time. She gets the quotable lines like "The ones you hold dear never leave you", which is a lovely, if basically untrue, thought.

For a book that is so philosophical, it moved quickly and kept my interest. While this is not as spooky a story as the cover might indicate, I can see it being popular with readers who enjoy books like Benjamin's The Thing About Jellyfish and Goebel's Grave Images.
Ms. Yingling

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