In this YA novel, a mysterious caretaker, a friendly ghost, and a magic map lead to adventure for a 12-year-boy still grieving his father’s death.
Joey Johanaby, his mother, and 8-year-old twin siblings Glory and Story lost Mr. Johanaby to cancer eight months ago. The family has just moved from Idaho to Tennessee and into a 160-year-old house that’s said to be haunted—but Joey has more immediate problems. His mother needs him to babysit the unmanageable twins, without pay, while she studies online for a new career. Of course, the twins defy him, and Joey always gets the blame. One bright spot is a man named Beezer, a caretaker who has a model-filled workshop in the garage; another is Henrietta Calhoun, the resident ghost. After the family almost suffers another tragedy, Joey receives a magic map that reads, “The adventure starts in Beezer’s room. The adventure ends in your heart.” On this journey, Joey will discover the true natures of love, courage, and family. Anderson (From Hogs to Heaven: The Life of Laurel Rae Dickinson, 2011) draws on some familiar tropes—the magical journey; the dead, absent, or absent-minded parent—but in his hands, they don’t feel rehashed. Magic allows entry to a world where Joey must still rely on his own experience, strength, and courage to succeed, and his insights are well-earned: “It wasn’t danger that was the adventure” but helping others. Anderson thoughtfully depicts how children think and feel, warts and all, such as Joey’s simultaneous pride in and resentment over his responsibilities and his disappointment when a “treasure chest” hidden by Beezer contains only chocolate coins: “He wanted gold, not an object lesson.” Mrs. Johanaby, though she expects too much from Joey, isn’t a cartoon villain but a realistically overburdened woman who wants to do better. Anderson’s exploration of forgiveness is equally thoughtful—even inspiring. Humor, charm, and affection help lighten the book’s serious themes.
Exciting adventure and honest, insightful characterization—a winner.