Eleven-year-old Zack is moving to Connecticut, back to the town where his father grew up. His father has recently remarried, and Zach is thrilled with his pretty, kind stepmother, a woman who is vastly different from the cold, spiteful mother who passed away a few years earlier.
As pleased as Zack is with the changes in his life, there are disturbing things happening in his new town. Aside from the mundane but nasty bullies he encounters in his neighborhood, there is an ancient tree at the edge of his yard, a tree that stands by the crossroads where something dreadful happened years earlier. The tree is somehow connected to restless spirits of the dead, and one of those spirits bears Zack a particular grudge.
Snippets from the points of view of various characters in the town, both living and dead, slowly fill in the blanks of the mystery surrounding the incident at the crossroads, ratcheting up the tension along the way.
I listened to this book as one of my R.I.P. Challenge choices, and it definitely fit the bill. There are truly creepy things going on - and I was actually a little surprised by the violence and death in a book that my library shelves in the juvenile fiction section. The protagonist is only 11, and at times he acts as though he is much younger, which might turn off some teen readers. But I'd recommend it to them all the same, particularly those who enjoy horror fiction. This is a series, which I didn't know when I started reading it, so maybe Zack will grow up along the way as the books progress.
There were a few things that didn't quite gel for me, things that were just a little too over-the-top in suspending my sense of disbelief, but younger readers would probably be too caught up in the story to share my qualms. Zack was a bit too weak and easily led for my taste, at least for most of the book, and he makes some choices that were definitely convenient to the plot but seemed pretty boneheaded, even for a young boy as gullible as Zack. Still, it was an exciting read, and the plot had some fun twists and turns, interesting characters, a tantalizing mystery, and a wonderfully spine-tingling atmosphere.
Books in the Crossroads series:
1. The Crossroads
2. The Hanging Hill
3. The Smoky Corridor
The Crossroads (#1 in the Crossroads series) by Chris Grabenstein; narrated by J.J. Myers (Listening Library, 2008)
Also reviewed at:
Back to Books: "The ending was predictable to this reader but still the characters were a lot of fun, even the nasty ones."
Blogcritics Books: "The story’s pacing is excellent. Short, bite-sized chapters create a momentum from page one that sweeps the reader through the narrative."
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "It's a book to read under the covers with a flashlight, one that will make you stay up late, and notice the shadows of branches moving on your bedroom walls."