Twelve-year-old Josh is so excited about his summer, mainly because he's going to be on the summer baseball team. He hasn't made too many friends yet, but now that he's made the team, he knows that friendships will follow. He bursts into the house to tell his mother and stepfather the great news, only to find that the two of them are going to India for work - without him - for the entire summer. He is going to travel to Washington State to stay with his stepfather's Aunt Ethel.
Josh is very unhappy about the prospect of spending the summer out in the middle of nowhere with an old woman he's never even met. When he finally arrives, things are even worse than he'd imagined. Aunt Ethel is a scarily terrible driver - and her truck is so old, it doesn't even have seat belts. When they get to the house, which is very isolated, they discover a bat has flown inside, and Aunt Ethel has a fit, running around, trying to kill it. Finally she gets her shotgun and blasts it, and there's bat blood all over the cake she made him, and they have to throw it out. Josh feels terrible for the poor little bat, who hadn't done anything wrong but make the mistake of coming into the house.
All in all, it is not an auspicious start to his summer. Things look a little brighter in the morning, when he wakes up to find Aunt Ethel making spaghetti for breakfast. She's a bit eccentric, but she's kind, and she tells him about a treehouse in the woods nearby, so he sets out to explore. That very first day he finds that the boring summer he expected is going to be exactly the opposite. For starters, the treehouse is haunted, but the ghost is friendly and needs Josh's assistance. Willie the ghost is a wonderful character, a one-legged miner who died in a mining accident a hundred years earlier. When Josh agrees to help him, he is launched on an action-packed, danger-filled summer adventure that involves screaming peacocks, stolen money, stray cats, graveyards, and a masked man with a gun.
Fans of ghost stories are sure to love this one. Even though the ghost isn't creepy, there is still plenty of suspense, because living, breathing humans can be menacing enough to put chills down readers' spines. The characters are well realized and believable, and I particularly enjoyed the development of Josh and Aunt Ethel's relationship. This books is one of this year's Virginia Reader's Choice awards. I highly recommend their wonderful website as a great means of finding excellent children's books.
The Ghost's Grave by Peg Kehret (Puffin Books, 2005)
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Reading by Pub Light: "This is a light, interesting read, with a few non-preachy life lessons and subtle shades of morbidity thrown into the mix. "