Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Visitors

Howard, Greg. The Visitors
February 1st 2022 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
E ARC provided by Edelweiss 

The Hollow Pines plantation in Georgetown County, South Carolina, has been abandoned for years. It's filled with ghosts, who all have troubled pasts and reasons for staying. One of these, a boy, doesn't quite know why he is there or who he is, but he's been roaming the area since Walter Cronkite was a news personality in the early 1970s. When three tweens from the present day, Thomas, Maya, and Mateo, show up at the derelict house, he overhears something that awakens a memory. Thomas is taping a podcast called "Finding Will" about a boy, Will Perkins, who disappeared in 1971 and whose body was never found. There are other names that sound familiar as well; Ronnie and Frankie, and we see them interact with Will in flashbacks. Will (who was born in 1959) was gay, and had a crush on his best friend Ronnie, who reacted badly when he found this out and told Frankie, who was a bully. Our ghost thinks he might be one of these boys, but the other ghosts at the plantation who represent a variety of time periods dating back to when the plantation had slaves, won't tell him anything. When Thomas and the twins enter the house, the ghost decides to show himself and help them with their cold case investigation. Thomas and his own best friend, Maya, have had some rough patches ever since Maya transitioned from being Marco. Maya's mother is supportive but her father is not, and she and Thomas have never addressed the tension between them. As more clues come to light, the ghost has a better idea of who he might be. Unfortunately, Mr. Culpepper, the former plantation owner, also haunts the house, and is determined to steal the souls of the children. With the help of the other ghosts, the children and their dog Goldie manage to survive, but will they be able to shed more light on what happened to Will Perkins, and on who the ghost really is?

Trigger warning: Suicide.
Strengths: This had plenty of spooky, almost Gothic Southern moments, and the cover certainly invites readers in to be scared! The use of cultural reference points, especially Walter Cronkite, whom younger readers will not know, is enough to make readers wonder about Will's age, and we are later given a definitive time frame, which I appreciated. The inclusion of ghosts of enslaved people allows the history of the plantation and the treatment of people during the time of slavery to be explored in an interesting way, and I appreciated the author's note about why he included this information. Will's treatment by Ronnie and Frankie, and especially by his own father, is horrible but absolutely true to life. Again, the author's note about his own experiences was very helpful. Maya's similar experience fifty years later makes for an interesting "compare and contrast" moment. Culpepper is a vicious killer ghost, which is the kind my students like best, and there are some truly frightening moments. This is an interesting departure from Mr. Howard's Middle School's a Drag, You Better Work and closer in style to The Whispers, and shows a good grasp of the horror genre. 
Weaknesses: There is a lot going on in the story, and it might take a strong middle grade reader to keep all of the plot threads straight. The historical references are all very solid, but unless Will had a younger sibling, I don't think he would have watched enough Sesame Street, at the age of ten, to make up a story involving Hooper's store. (When my own childhood shows up in historical fiction, I become super picky. I was the target demographic for Sesame Street when it first aired, but would never have watched it past the age of seven.)
What I really think: This might take a bit of handselling to find just the right reader; it's a bit long, but I appreciated the mix of horror, LGBTQ+ issues, and history. Fans of Luckoff's Too Bright to See, King's Me and Marvin Gardens or Haydu's One Jar of Magic will definitely enjoy this one. 

Ogle, Rex. The Supernatural Society.
February 1st 2022 by Inkyard Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Will is half-Latinx, and his mother has left his father and moved the two of them from Brooklyn to the small town of East Emerson. From the very beginning, Will notices weird things happening in his new neighborhood. At first, he thinks it is because it is Halloween, but he soon realizes that he can see monsters who walk among the ordinary inhabitants of the town. Luckily, neighbor Ivy (who is Korean American) sees them as well, and helps him acclimate. Her brother, Linus (who is Black; the two are adopted), is a very cerebral character who has a very rarified way of speaking. (E.G., from the E ARC “I luxuriate in resolving inquiries,” Linus said. He pushed the glasses up his nose. Luxuriate means taking self-indulgent delight in something.”) While not everyone seems to notice, there are other clues, like Will’s school schedule, which says that he is not invisible. When his beloved dog goes missing at an abandoned amusement park, and then other pets go missing as well, Will has to try to solve the mystery of why this is happening in order to get his dog back.
Strengths: I’m glad that Mr. Ogle wrote a book that he wanted to read when he was young, and that he broke this down carefully and came up with his format. It’s also good to see Latinx representation, and a less traumatic version of his own troubled upbringing. There are not too many books featuring monsters, although we are seeing a bit more.
Weaknesses: It’s just interesting to me that when tweens move, their houses are apt to be haunted. (Oh’s Spirit Hunters, Corrigan’s Creep, Hahn’s Closed for the Season.) Wouldn’t it be scarier if the home you had lived in all of your life was suddenly haunted? The cover is not terribly appealing.
What I really think: Twenty years ago, I would have bought a copy for Lemony Snicket fans, but this is a bit young for my current readers, who aren’t fond of the “Dear Reader” tone. Fans of Lubar’s Monsterrific Tales, Stine’s Goosebumps books, Gilman’s Lovecraft Middle School, and Kent’s Scary School will enjoy this, and it’s great for readers who are allowed to watch Stranger Things but aren’t quite ready for Condie’s Darkdeep. Perhaps the kinds of books that students want to read have changed a bit since Ogle was young.

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