Friday, August 26, 2022

The Polter-Ghost Problem

Uhrig, Betsy. The Polter-Ghost Problem
August 30th 2022 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Aldo, Pen, and Jasper live in Frog Lake, and find themselves faced with a summer journal project for their next year's teacher, Ms. Pilcrow. While they have a lot of freedom to wander, Jasper is dealing with a wrist injury, and the boys aren't quite sure how to spend their time in a way that will make for interesting reading. This changes when they are on a nearby soccer field and see a boy dressed in old fashioned clothing. They try to talk to him, but he goes into an abandoned house. The house is everything you would expect a haunted house to be, and when the boys enter it, they find themselves in conversation with Theo, as well as another ghost, Franny. The ghosts try to talk the boys into "playing with matches" and burning down the house. Being good kids, the boys decline. It turns out that there are a number of ghosts of children in the house, which had been the Grauche Orphanage at one point. The odd thing is that the children haven't always been ghosts, and didn't even die when they were children; most lived long lives, and have only been haunting the orphanage for about a month. Using great research skills, Aldo, Pen, and Jasper go to the public library and try to uncover information about the orphanage and its owners that might help them send the ghosts on their way. They discover unpleasant things about the owners, who apparently hated children and even died 100 years ago on a Titanic-like ship, where they were giving lectures about how awful children were. The orphans were all renamed, with last names ending in -ump, and were never treated very well. Now, stuck in the house, they are thwarted from leaving by spirits that "throw tantrums" whenever any of them try to leave. One ghost, Greta, gives them a good starting point to uncover the mystery of why the children were called back, and they are able to connect this child to someone in their present day community. Will they be able to appease Greta's spirit and release the others?
Strengths: One of my favorite parts of the book was the involved and concerned parents; at one point, all three boys need to visit the emergency room to be patched up and claim they were playing football. The parents seem more appalled at the idea of football than they probably would have been by the idea of a haunted house! The boys reflect their upbringing by wearing helmets and knee pads in a further visit to the house, and are depicted as wearing their socks over their pants to avoid poison ivy. Those small details made this a really fun read and will resonate with readers who want to have adventures but don't want to take any more risks than they have to. The history of the orphanage and the nasty people who ran it is well developed, and is a gret spin on the middle grade trope of orphan characters. The way the history intertwines with the present day works well, and I loved that the boys went to the library and did research in order to solve their problem. Aldo's brother Nick gives them some realistic trouble. 
Weaknesses: I never got a particularly good feel for Aldo, Pen, and Jasper as individuals, even though Aldo has to struggle with a slightly obnoxious older brother. Also, even though this involves ghosts, it's more humorous than scary. Not that this is bad; it just means a different audience will pick it up. 
What I really think: I loved this author's Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini, and even though this book involves ghosts, it has a similar vibe. I've been trying to think of another book where the tweens have conversations with friendly ghosts and work together with them to solve a mystery, and am coming up blank with comparisons. It's hard to write something original, but Uhrig has done a great job with this humorous story of kids going about their summer and just happening to hang out with ghosts!

Ms. Yingling

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