A ghost story that twists urban legends with the identifiable struggles of a latchkey kid.
It’s the summer of 1979, and young Ray is thrilled when he and his mother, stepfather and three older brothers finally move out of the projects and into a converted duplex in Austin, Texas. The neighborhood has everything a kid could ask for, including a dirt lot where Ray and his friends build a tree house. Ray’s youngest brother, Richard, has a special gift for storytelling and the pair spend many an afternoon high in the branches, entertaining their friends. Soon Ray learns that a terrible fire destroyed the house that once stood on the empty lot, killing the family inside. Ray’s friends say the remains are still in the lot, buried in a hole that’s guarded by an angry spirit. To prove them wrong, Ray jumps in the hole—with disastrous results. A ghostly burn victim Ray calls Candle Face crawls out of the ground like the demonic girl of the 2004 film The Ring and into his bedroom, enacting a vendetta that’s reminiscent of the 2001 thriller The Grudge. This alone would send shivers down the spine of any kid who has ever chanted “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom mirror, but the horror of the book also lies in the real world. Ray’s overworked parents have little time to notice when Richard, a star student, begins losing interest in his schoolwork, or how Ray is often the victim of his older brothers’ bullying. Between a vengeful spirit and a family in crisis, if Ray is to make it out of his childhood alive, he’ll have to learn how to fight his own battles. Now a soldier facing deployment to Kosovo, a grown-up Ray narrates, offering hindsight and the occasional italicized foreshadowing. In a coming-of-age story that’s well paced and layered with emotion, Mills creates moments of true suspense through guileless prose as he unearths a family tragedy.
Both haunted and haunting