DIAL-A-GHOST by Eva Ibbotson


by & illustrated by
Age Range: 8 - 14
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If R.L. Stine, Charles Dickens, and Lemony Snicket gave a writers’ workshop, any resulting fiction might not be a literary masterpiece, but it would have deliciously wicked currency with young readers. Such is this latest from Ibbotson (Island of the Aunts, 2000, etc.), with plot intersections, melodramatic misfortunes, and macabre special effects. At the center of the main plot twist is an agency called Dial-a-Ghost, which is run by two well-meaning social-worker types. It seeks to match ghosts with positions where ghosts are needed—and wanted. The Wilkinsons, an endearing family of ghosts killed during a WWII bombing, are seeking a more appropriate home in which to raise a family than the lingerie shop in the mall. Meanwhile, Sir and Lady de Bone (a.k.a. the Shriekers), Victorian ghosts who have taken a vow to do appalling harm to innocent children, are hired by a pair of murderous guardians for the sole purpose of literally scaring to death a vulnerable little orphan-heir named (of all things) Oliver. The two placements are switched by an inept Dial-a-Ghost office boy with hilarious and dramatic consequences. The Shriekers wind up in the convent home intended for the gentle Wilkinsons, who themselves settle in with Oliver. He is immediately comforted by their kindly presence. The atmospherics are enhanced by Ibbotson’s unerring ability to interpret the extraordinary in the most deadpan and literal way, such as the business strategies employed by Dial-a-Ghost. The ghosts themselves are a satisfyingly eccentric bunch: Grandma’s “whiskers on her chin stuck out like daggers in the moonlight,” and Lady Sabrina de Bone, whose toes were worn away by hatred and her “nose nothing but a nibbled stump.” While much of this territory may seem familiar, it is never old to young readers who like their humor laced with blood-curdling screams, and just can’t get enough. (Fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-525-46693-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2001


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