A brisk, nuanced story of supernatural sightings and adolescent tribulations.

THE GHOST OF JAMIE MCVAY

In Ziemer’s debut YA tale, a teenager believes he’s seen a ghost from his town’s folklore.

Brian Krueger’s life is a struggle after the death of his paternal grandfather. The teen’s dad responds by drinking heavily, prompting his unemployment. So Brian’s mom finds a job, which takes the family from Chicago to just outside Winston, Illinois. Their new neighbors, the Vincenzis, include teenage “Pete the Pyro,” a bully who loves building huge bonfires but clearly doesn’t like Brian. Luckily, Brian has a friend in Sharon Rice. They have English class together at Winston North and team up on a research paper. Their topic is the reputed ghost of Jamie McVay, a local legend. Brian’s interest is personal: One night, he sensed the presence of a speeding train in the same spot, he later learns, of a fatal train accident decades ago. He also saw a red signal light evidently belonging to McVay, the conductor reputedly on the doomed train. Research dredges up secrets surrounding both the wreck and McVay himself. Brian, meanwhile, already has his share of problems: his alcoholic father, constant bullying from Pete and his cronies, and Sharon’s new social status, which may sever their friendship. It all culminates in a Halloween night of shocks and revelations. Despite supernatural elements, Ziemer’s novel is consistently subtle. For example, the red signal light typically indicates McVay’s presence, in lieu of a more overt ghostly image. Likewise understated is Brian and Sharon’s relationship. While potential romance between the teens is apparent, their steadily developing friendship deepens organically, and their mutual attraction is obvious, though neither explicitly addressing it. There’s minimal suspense with regard to the restless spirit of McVay. The scariest parts are generally more relatable, involving such things as Brian’s inebriated dad behind the wheel (with Brian in the passenger seat) and Pete’s rather unnerving fondness for flames. The author’s tight prose helps the story retain a swift pace all the way to a climax that, even if readers see it coming, is wholly gratifying.

A brisk, nuanced story of supernatural sightings and adolescent tribulations. 

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68433-215-1

Page Count: 237

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2020

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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