A sixth-grade community-service project at the town cemetery leads to mystery, new friendships and a cathartic resolution for a troubled young boy.
He and his fellow project members, each with their own quirks, meet first at the library, where they learn about cemetery maintenance from a group of elderly men led by Mr. Creelman, who barks out information and gives pop quizzes. Along the way, they discover a mystery book with a secret code scribbled in the margins, and they find all kinds of interconnections among Mr. Creelman, other members of the community, past and present, and a time capsule. The project unleashes a host of painful memories for Derek, who has persistent nightmares involving his best friend, Dennis, who was hit by a car and killed when he was chasing a ball that Derek had kicked. Kerrin makes it all work. Derek tells his own story, allowing readers to empathize with his fears and struggles as he comes to grips with them. The supporting characters are pleasingly eccentric, and the action is fast-paced. The plot is convoluted and deals with some serious issues, but it all comes together in a manner that seems perfectly reasonable. There is even a secret code for readers to solve for themselves.
Surprising twists and turns amid laughter and tears. (Fiction. 9-12)