A debut novel introduces a boy investigating the mysterious happenings in a Louisiana house.
Matt Franklin doesn’t want to have to stay with his aunt and uncle in the Louisiana swamp, but his busy parents don’t give him a choice. Don’t they care that they will miss his 12th birthday? When he gets to Louisiana, Aunt Eartha serves him gator nuggets while his cousin Lucy keeps disappearing into the house’s secret passageways. At least there’s a giant library—the biggest that Matt has ever seen: “Three floors high of all books. A stained glass, dome ceiling that’s allowing plenty of bright sunlight to pour in. Towards the right is a beautiful spiral staircase that gives you access to each floor.” It turns out that the house contains a massive bomb shelter beneath it, which explains all the extra space. Unfortunately, the shelter is the place where more than 100 people burned to death in 1829. When Lucy invites Matt to join her on an investigation into the mysterious smoke that they both have smelled in the area, he reluctantly agrees. That night, when they hear unusual noises coming from the library, Lucy and Matt sneak in and are confronted by an incredible sight: a real ghost. Unluckily for Matt, things only get spookier from there. At under 60 pages, this series opener, aimed at grades four to six, is a quick read that doesn’t have time to dally. Valentino writes in an energetic prose that keeps the story light, even if it’s not the best suited style for building subtle tension: “I’m sure you’re getting tired,” Aunt Eartha tells Matt the first night, “and we’re all usually in bed around here by 10:00, it’s safer. I mean, it’s better! Yeah, it’s...it’s better to get a good night’s rest is all.” While the backstory of the house is perhaps needlessly complex, the mystery should please young readers with its Scooby-Doo-esque mix of humor and creepiness. Matt and Lucy make a fun pairing, and the audience will get to enjoy their further adventures in the series’ next installment.
A somewhat messy but satisfying ghost story for young readers.