As October quickly zooms by, I am hard at work trying to get my Halloween Reads post done. This title will go on that list, but I wanted to do more than a capsule review on it. It deserves its own space.
I knew it would be good, having read Will’s previous books. But it was better than good. Here we have another stellar story from the indomitable Will Alexander.
You think you are going to get a ghost story. Well, in a way, you do. But first, Will takes us on a route around the ghost stories. Along the way, we get the story of two families, and two kids. Rosa and Jasper come together at a time when Rosa thinks her world has ended. We get little pieces of that story as the book goes on. Jasper thinks his world is humming along fine, until suddenly, it’s not.
I don’t want to spoil the plot, but let me say this: Will is a magician. He can take these little squiggly black lines, and invent worlds out of them, and make them sing and give them heart. He makes them into great truths and touches a reader right in the feels. In this book, he has invented a new profession (an appeasement specialist) with accompanying tools and tricks of the trade, he has created a whole set of rules for how ghosts behave (they get angry if you lock them out), and he has delved into the heart of a 12 year old girl and told us what really matters to her. It’s not that her new home has no windows (though that is understandably annoying), or that her mother took this job that makes no sense for her abilities. No, what really matters is who she is missing.
Rosa is a strong female character who just happens to be a kid. She moves through her day using anger as a shield, to push through anything that might stop her and remind her of what she has lost. Sadness slows her down. Her new home feels more like a tomb than a home. There might be some significance to that. Her mother is behaving strangely, and Rosa can’t make sense of anything. I love how true and real Rosa feels. Her thoughts tell us that she is a smart girl yet she is vulnerable, and self-aware enough to know it.
Oh, and did I mention that the whole thing takes place in a library? Because where else would an appeasement specialist live? Complete with an actual snotty librarian. I loved Mrs. Jellynip. She says all the things that an adult is supposed to say, but Rosa doesn’t miss a thing. “Mrs. Jellynip went away without bothering to learn Rosa’s name. Then she watched Rosa sideways to make sure she didn’t touch any of the maps. That made Rosa want to touch maps. She wanted to jump up and down on a big pile of maps. But she didn’t.”
I cannot help but love a book that gives us the untold lives of books. Why would libraries be haunted? It’s because of all the stories, of course. There is a sense of history in this story that reminds us to honor those who came before. It may be a nod to the Day of the Dead tradition, as Alexander is Latino. It is very clear (to an adult reader, at least) that we must not forget those we love. Say their name. It matters.
The properly unhaunted place in the title turns out to be haunted in all sorts of ways which unfold bit by bit, and along the way, we get a heck of a good story. There is a Renaissance Fair, complete with cosplay, and in addition to the aforementioned librarian, one very stuffy town leader. In the end, it is sweet, a little sad, and very satisfying. This is a Middle Grade novel, but I think kids of all ages (and adults) will find something to love here.
As you may have noticed, I was on a bit of a hiatus. It was largely unintended. I took a part time job and whoosh, there went all my time. Then I took time off from that, to take some trips to research and work on my novel. I am amazed at how much time has gone by since my last post. But I’ve got some good stuff on the docket, including my annual Halloween Reads post, and I hope you will join me. There are so many good books out there!