Judging a book by its cover:
The actual illustration is pretty straight forward. There is a ghostly figure at the door of a house with someone opening it. Both are wearing pairs of chucks before the era of them being part of the hipster uniform. Also the perspective is kind of odd. Apparently being a ghost gives you fish-eye lens vision.
The front tagline reads, "There's a strange new kid on the block..." I guess it pertains to the book, but it's not very clever or punchy. I prefer ones that are plays on well known phrases and such. The back tagline is a little better, saying, "How come I've never seen you before?" Which is kind of clever because ya know... ghosts are invisible and such. Not bad.
Not much more to say about it. Now onto the actual contents!
This one stars Hannah Fairchild as your usual t(w)een main character. She is a pretty typical kid in the fairly nondescript town of Greenwood Falls. She lives with her parents and younger twin brothers who are always being nuisances.
The book opens with Hannah in a room being consumed by fire. When she comes to in her own bed and nothing is burnt she comes to the conclusion it was all a dream and goes on about her business. The summer has been pretty boring for her because most of her friends have gone to camp but her parents couldn't afford to send her. Her friends at camp wont even write back to any of the letters she sent them! Regardless she found ways to cope with the boredom, like having a campfire on their yard the night before telling ghost stories to her little brothers.
In the one interesting developing of the summer it turns out someone has moved in next door. It seemed odd to her because she never saw any moving trucks. Further adding to the oddness is the fact that they go to the same school but don't know any of the same people.
Well Danny and his pals just keep raising more hell. Hannah goes to get an ice-cream cone and witnesses them all steal from the shop. She follows them and sees them vandalize the postmasters mailbox, though he comes out and threatens them. Danny gets the brunt of it because he is the one they conned into doing it, but he also seems rather apprehensive.
Meanwhile the shadow entity keeps harassing Hannah, especially when Danny is involved. Other odd things occur and she becomes convinced that he is a ghost. Well there is only one thing to do when you have found someone that is a ghost. Politely ask them if they are a ghost... And she does. And he isn't. But she is. Danny can put his arms through her, and it freaks him right the fuck out. Turns out that a couple years ago her house burned down and her whole family died. It was caused by that campfire she made to tell her little brothers scary stories. Hannah killed herself and her entire family... Woah Mr. Stine, that is pretty damn heavy for a kids book.
She tries to confront Danny again to explain herself, but he is still freaked out by the "she's a ghost thing," so he runs off. She follows him to Postmaster Chesney's house and sees his friends there. They finish their vandalism on his mailbox then head into his house with a lighter. Escalating their hooliganry, they proceed to start his house on fire. Danny however gets trapped. Then the Shadow-creature returns and Hannah unmasks it. Underneath it looks like Danny. Apparently it is Shadow Danny, that wants to kill the real Danny so he will go to the shadow world and then Shadow Danny can live.. Or something. Hannah realizes she can save him from dying horribly in a fire like she and her whole family did. She rescues him and Shadow Danny burns in the fire. The final scene has Danny explaining to his mom that the neighbor girl Hannah saved him, but his mom assures him that Hannah died in a fire. Hannah's spirit then fades away.
What I Thought:
Anyway, this book does a lot of things right that the last few haven't. Firstly, it actually hints at the twist. There are a lot of times when people don't seem to notice Hannah, though it is not so painfully obvious as to ruin everything. Also, the shadow-being while not my favorite element of the book did make it harder to conceive of Hannah being a ghost. Secondly, the the twist wasn't absolutely ridiculous. It fit with the story, and didn't come completely out of the blue. It also carried some weight with it. Perhaps even a little too much weight. I kind of wonder how kids responded to the revelation that Hannah burned her family to death. I kind of wonder how I responded to it when I was young.
I also wonder what the hell is going to happen to Danny now. The dude just burned down a mailman's house. Surely he is at least going to go to juvenile hall. There is some what of a moral tale at play here with him being driven to do bad things by his friends, which almost destroy him. He is saved from the destruction, but is he ultimately redeemed? Is he going to continue being a delinquent? Hannah may have saved him from dying, but we don't really know if she turned him away from a life of crime. The moral tale falls short.
Still, it is a cut above the previous couple books. It's coherent and intriguing for the reader level its aimed at. My faith in the series was waning after Camp Nightmare, but I think it has been restored with this book.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Ghosts
The Haunted Mask! I'm kind of excited. With a couple direct sequels, this is one of the more popular entries in the series. Plus I feel like I sort of remember it, which is seeming rare for these books. If I recall it involves a kid who gets picked on a lot buying a mask to scare the bejeezus out of the bullies, but it backfiring in a big way. Check back next time to see if I'm right about that.