A preteen girl and her newfound friend investigate paranormal activity on her grandmother's farm.
For Avery, summers on her grandmother's backwater farm have always meant long days filled with make-believe and storytelling. When her older brother, Blake, starts this summer break refusing to play with her, Avery wanders off to pout. She bumps into Julian, a city boy whose famous dad is staying in one of her grandmother's cabins. Julian's zeal for filmmaking catches Avery's fancy, and soon they develop a short film centering around the haunted Hillard Mansion, which Avery is forbidden to enter. The ensuing frights are a delight for readers aging out of junior horror and looking for some thematic meat in their reading. Gensler neatly captures a setting that has real history behind it instead of a stage-bound backdrop. Also well-developed is Avery's tween-ness, a tricky age when the world seems so big and so open that real terrors are replacing the figures of nightmares. The author's primary interest is in Avery's relationships with her mother and grandmother. This component is refreshing, but unfortunately it throws less well-developed relationships into relief. Julian and his family in particular feel like something of an afterthought. A late-in-the-game reveal works well enough when thematically linked to the novel's supernatural element, but it’s not enough to make these characters spring to life. Better handled are the novel's terror sequences, which are spaced out a bit but still satisfyingly unnerving.
Frightening and engrossing. (Horror. 10-14)