Lighthearted supernatural stories

The following books should appeal to middle-graders and middle-schoolers who prefer their supernatural thrills with a side of humor.

The Weird in the Wilds [Tales of Triumph and Disaster!]
by Deb Caletti; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Putnam    272 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-9848-1308-4    $13.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-1309-1    $8.99

In our introduction to Henry Early in A Flicker of Courage (rev. 1/20), the big reveal was that this reluctant hero, a gothically neglected child, is a “spell-breaker.” In this second fantasy-adventure offering, Henry and his fellow spell-breakers tackle the dilemma of a boy who has been turned into a beast by archvillain ruler Vlad Luxor, an egomaniac with magic powers prone to impetuous attacks on his own subjects. (Lest you miss it, the satire is driven home with a parallel plot in which Luxor is determined to build a wall around his kingdom.) The narrative in which Henry and the gang go on a quest to free Jason, the beast-boy, is action-driven to say the least, with heaping handfuls of exclamation points and italics to help sustain the energy. What saves this from overkill are three original elements. First, the writing laughs at itself, winking at the reader with comparisons that would be strong contenders in a bad simile contest. Second, the illustrations are darkly and weirdly hilarious. Finally, there’s an undercurrent of moral subtlety: Jason is a whiny, homophobic bully, and the spell-breakers heartily dislike him, but they still fulfill their duty to rescue him. Without much editorial comment, Caletti presents Henry as an embodiment of the decency and justice that can override personal antipathy and disapproval. SARAH ELLIS

Witches of Brooklyn
by Sophie Escabasse; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    RH Graphic/Random    240 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-593-12528-1    $20.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-11928-0    $23.99
Paper ed.  978-0-593-11927-3    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-11929-7    $8.99

In this lighthearted, sweet, and entertaining fantastical graphic novel, eleven-year-old Effie is (unexpectedly for all parties involved) sent to live with her elderly, odd-couple aunts after her mother’s death. Selimene and Carlota run a holistic healing practice out of their enormous Brooklyn house, and late one night, Effie’s idol, pop star Tily Shoo, and her entourage barge in to beg their help. Vain, self-absorbed Tily has turned her face bright red — possibly permanently — with a new skin product. That night Effie learns that the aunts’ healing is enhanced by benevolent witchcraft and that her own magical powers are emerging; her apprenticeship begins immediately, as she helps the aunts find a solution to Tily’s problem. While Effie’s coming into her own as a witch is the main plot line, the blossoming of her loving relationships with her newfound family and friends is equally compelling. The personality-filled art features effectively paced, dynamically sized panels. First in a projected series. KATIE BIRCHER

The Last Mirror on the Left
by Lamar Giles; illus. by Dapo Adeola
Intermediate, Middle School    Versify/Houghton    272 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-358-12941-7    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-13043-7    $9.99

After their supernatural successes in The Last Last-Day-of-Summer (rev. 3/19), Sheed and Otto must now live up to their status as the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County. The cousins have recently discovered that their town’s Rorrim Mirror Emporium is actually a prison (part of the Multiverse Justice System); but mirrors are missing — and with them the prisoners they held. So off the boys go through the looking glasses into the Warped World, a place much like their home world, but not quite. They recruit allies — a veterinarian, a posse of giant spiders, and the local Church Ladies — who, armed with forceful voices, a yo-yo, an Afro pick, and a giant mirror, prove formidable. Continuing a plot point from volume one, Otto also seeks a cure for a mysterious illness threatening Sheed’s life. Lively prose, witty wordplay, and likable protagonists make this a fully engaging story. The text is spaciously laid out, with Otto’s log entries and Adeola’s illustrations (final art not seen) interspersed. An afterword hints at “adventures to come.” DEAN SCHNEIDER

The Inkberg Enigma
by Jonathan King; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Gecko    129 pp.    g
9/20    Paper ed.  978-1-776572-66-3    $17.61

In this graphic novel set in and around the fictional contemporary New Zealand fishing town of Aurora, youngsters Miro and Zia witness something they weren’t supposed to: a fisherman, entangled in huge tentacles, being rushed inside the fish processing plant by crewmates. Miro prefers to read about adventures rather than live them, but Zia’s curiosity is contagious, and he grudgingly agrees to help her investigate. Soon they are unraveling a mystery involving a captain’s logbook from a disastrous 1930s Antarctic expedition; Aurora’s seemingly overnight success as a fishing port immediately following the survivors’ return; and the cultish “Order of the Sea” that appears to control just about everything in town. Although the supernatural secret behind Aurora’s prosperity is disturbing — and very tentacle-y — the story is more thrilling than frightening, thanks to the light dialogue and Tintin-style illustrations. Miro’s bookishness plays as much a part in righting the town’s wrongs as does Zia’s daring, and playful references to Miro’s beloved adventure novels (including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, of course) and vintage comics abound. KATIE BIRCHER

Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts
by Dianne K. Salerni
Intermediate, Middle School    Holiday    240 pp.    g
8/20    978-0-8234-4697-1    $17.99

In an alternate-universe 1898 New York City, cousins Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt unite to solve the mystery of the ghost who has recently “erupted” in their aunt Bye’s house. Here ghost eruptions are common; professional diagnosticians determine if spirits are Friendlies, Unawares, or Vengefuls. The one haunting Aunt Bye’s house is initially categorized as a Friendly — so why the vicious pranks, the cruel auditory hallucinations, the attempted poisoning of Aunt Bye, and worse? Salerni skillfully incorporates facts about the extended Roosevelt family (Theodore’s grief over his first wife’s death; the burgeoning romance between Eleanor and Franklin) into a lively and inventive ghost story/mystery/historical fiction mashup. Chapters alternate between Eleanor’s and Alice’s point of views, allowing readers insight into each young woman’s thoughts, emotions, and personality. Introverted and awkward, Eleanor longs to continue her education in London and escape life with her oppressive Grandmother Hall; daring, self-confident, outrageously misbehaving Alice misses the mother she never knew and longs for her distant father’s attention. Initially not at all close, the two bond over their shared mission to solve the mystery and dispatch the ghost, and in so doing uncover a second haunting and a dark family secret. Although the novel is engrossing right from the start, tensions build very quickly to a thrilling, Ghostbusters-esque climax, and readers will never think about FDR in quite the same way again after seeing him swing an iron poker at a ghost — though in fact it is Eleanor and Alice who finish the job. Who you gonna call? An author’s note provides additional information about the Roosevelt family. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the October 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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