When you read a ghost story in broad daylight on a summer afternoon and you find the hairs standing up on the back of your neck, you know that it’s going to be a spooky read. And this is a very spooky read, one which I requested from Net Galley after having my curiosity sparked by all the discussion about it on Twitter at the end of last week.
In an unusually cold October – one so cold that it has closed schools early ahead of the half term holiday – Aveline arrives in the dark and gloomy coastal town of Malmouth. It is here that she is to spend the break with her Aunt Lilian so that her mum can visit Aveline’s sick grandmother. As mum drives into the town with the purpose of dropping her off, they are shocked to see a strange-looking boy leaning against a wall who on closer inspection turns out to be the first of many scarecrows that are dotted around the village.
The following morning, after her mother has left, Aveline explores her surroundings visiting the local second-hand bookshop run by the eccentric Mr Lieberman. With a little help from the old man’s nephew Harold, she finds an old volume of local ghost stories which she decides to buy. Meeting her aunt afterwards at a coffee shop, she is puzzled by her aunt’s decision to leave immediately, having barely touched her cake after reading the name written inside the front cover.
As she starts to read the book, Aveline flicks through and is angered at finding that all of the last story has been crossed through. Together with Harold and Mr Lieberman, Aveline works to unravel the mystery of the book’s original owner – a girl who mysteriously disappeared some thirty-odd years ago – to prevent history repeating itself.
I loved ghosts, vampires and all things undead and scary as a child but they seemed to have fallen out of fashion when my own children were the age at which this is aimed. Fortunately, for those for whom ‘fluffy’ books full of glittery unicorns are of no interest, reads like this are becoming a more commonly available treat. Many children do love being scared and this book delivers frights in spades full from very early on in the story. Through devices such as footsteps coming from the unoccupied room above and a child’s handprint inexplicably appearing on a window, the tension steadily ramps up until the end where the ghostly carryings on reach their heart-pounding climax.
With perfect timing, this book is due to be published on September 17th, when the nights will be drawing in and Hallowe’en will be within sight. That extra layer of creepiness that comes with being able to read this in reduced lighting with appropriate weather to add sound effects will be in place, making this a wonderful autumn read. I have no doubt that many of my current class would enjoy the chance to be scared silly by this as would the Year 6s. 5 out of 5 stars.
Huge thanks, as always, to Net Galley for allowing me to read this ahead of publication and to Usborne.