"An eerily amusing horror tale that will have readers rooting for the characters."– Kirkus Reviews
Los Angeles kids tangle with a mostly friendly ghost and a not-so-congenial spirit in this YA paranormal novel.
Ben D’Argento, fresh out of high school, is nursing a broken heart. His childhood sweetheart, Mark, found religion and left him for a woman. Looking for somewhere to lick his wounds, he absconds to his stepfather’s eerie summer house on Fawnskin Lake—where he is strictly forbidden from going. For company, he breaks his autistic 6-year old brother, Tadzio (“Taddy”), out of his group home, hoping to give him “the summer vacation he’s never had.” As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Quickly, Taddy unearths a creepy basement and establishes a rapport with Flora, a dead girl in a blue dress who claims: “This is my house. I live here.” Thankfully, the only neighbors for miles, Jayne and Ozzy, are an amiable couple—and it also doesn’t hurt that she is a psychic. Jayne tells the boys about Ainila, a spirit who is meant to guard the lake. But, as Taddy says, “There’s a bad thing at the bottom of the lake.” And it’s out to collect souls, the most prized of which turns out to be Taddy’s. In this rollicking series opener, Demcak (Alpha Wave, 2018, etc.) presents the gamut of spooky happenings—on this wild ride, readers will encounter tarot readings, séances, ghostly bee swarms, and “the Los Angeles Paranormal Investigation Society.” But he doesn’t try too hard to make it all fit into one neat package. Sure, some loose ends are left wafting in the ghostly breeze, a couple of coincidences stretch readers’ spectrum of credulity, and the ending seems to resolve a little too quickly, but horror can be a messy mistress. Besides, what counts are the moments of tension, elements of surprise, appealing cast, and ultimately the fun—is that voyeuristic ghost who’s peeping at Ben and a friend about to get down and dirty? With Demcak, that’s decidedly possible.
An eerily amusing horror tale that will have readers rooting for the characters.
There’s something to be said about an undiluted message.
Demcak drops readers directly into the first-person perspective of James Kerr, a 14-year-old white gay boy with an undefined learning disability living in Los Angeles. Under last-minute pressure to finish an English class assignment, he writes a fully visualized poem thanks to the otherworldly hand of fictional Harlem Renaissance writer Montgomery Langston (whose equally fictional “An Undreamed Dream” is an appalling pastiche of “Harlem (Dream Deferred)”). When James does this again—and on the principal’s desk while under a trance—James finds out that he has both a gift or two and a half sister, a teenage Korean girl named Lumen, thanks to shared extraterrestrial DNA contained at Paragon Academy, a “school” that is a front for the U.S. government. In all of this, James falls mutually in love with his only friend, Paul Schmitz, a 15-year-old mixed-race Filipino/white neighbor and fellow ninth-grader whose father tries to “toughen up” through weightlifting, controlling contact between James and Paul, and homophobia-based physical abuse. They even become genetically manipulated cousins while remaining lovers. This book really wants to take its place in the marginalized-will-lead-us genre, as popularized by The Matrix and the X-Men franchises. But when that positive message is delivered with acceptance of taboos and negative stereotypes—such as mixed-race people’s “magical exoticism” and Magical Negroes using their supernatural powers to solely aid white protagonists—the message gets lost.
Well intended but desperately unsuccessful. (Paranormal romance. 14-17)