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Book Review: Ghost Boy

GHOST BOY by Jan Burns is a great choice for young readers looking for a realistic mystery layered with paranormal intrigue. Check out what Steph Huddleston has to say in her review of this middle grade paranormal novel.

Book Review: Ghost Boy

Reviewed by Steph Huddleston

Haunting. Ghost Boy is a great choice for young readers looking for a realistic mystery layered with paranormal intrigue. 

Tyler Scott and his friends spend their days exploring the sleepy town of Diamond Creek, but when Tyler uncovers the skull of a boy, he finds himself smack in the middle of a mystery. Despite Tyler’s dad’s warnings not to investigate, how can Tyler ignore the ghost boy’s plea to help him find out what happened? 

The ghost boy and his father disappeared years earlier in the midst of a small town scandal. Now it’s up to Tyler and his friends Addy and David to solve the mystery, all while dodging threats which seem to be coming increasingly close to home. 

Jan Burns captures the sleepy yet dangerous undercurrent of Diamond Creek perfectly. From the opening scene in the quarry, readers will be transported to a dusty town with a by-gone feel to it. Kids play out in the open and seem to have little access to contemporary devices. While this does make it feel a little nostalgic, or set in an unclear time period, it’s carried off in such a way that the characters’ reality will be easily accepted by readers. 

Young readers, or their guardians, should be aware that this book carries some heavy themes. Sensitive readers may find the themes of death and murder challenging. Especially considering how well Burns evokes an ominous tone in her writing. A child discovering the skull of another boy, of a similar age, carries a depth of darkness to it which does not go unfelt by audiences, or indeed the characters themselves. 

“‘Wonder who died,’ I said, wiggling the fingers that had touched the skull. They still stung as if I’d gotten shocked with electricity. Whenever I thought about what I’d touched, I felt a strange coldness run through me, despite the heat.”

Fiction meets reality in an unnerving way in this story. Unfortunately, children do live in a world where children are murdered. With recent global news events and shootings, it can feel uncomfortable to read fiction where characters are encountering challenges that we hope real children will never face—the death of a peer. 

But perhaps there’s something to be said for novels that push the boundaries and allow their characters (and therefore readers) to feel empowered against forces that threaten. It is a complex topic, and this book certainly makes an adult reader ask such questions.

The mystery and paranormal elements of the story are carried out exceptionally well, without seeming overly sensational or far-fetched. Ben, the ghost boy, is a tragic character who readers will easily feel compelled to root for. The other characters, Tyler, Addy, and David represent the fun and challenges that can come with being an older child in a small town. Other storylines include those revolving around boredom and sibling angst. 

Given the succinct way that the mystery is solved, it feels as though there may have been room to witness the characters experience more setbacks or have the family dynamic themes fleshed out further. In particular, Tyler’s relationship with his father and grandparents is a strong subplot regarding a potential relocation due to his father’s work, but it is wrapped up quickly, despite interest and connection likely coming from young readers.

This middle grade novel feels like it falls somewhere between Nancy Drew and the Goosebumps novels. A well-written mystery with a realistically dark plot, best read with adult supervision. 

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction / Paranormal

Print Length: 98 pages

ISBN: 978-1639883714

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