Give the Gift of Ghosts

Free shipping for Christmas over at Amazon may have ended, but there is still lots of time to head down to the bookstore to buy more presents. Here are some suggestions for kids and teens who love spooky stories, taken from the books nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. I've listed them from youngest to oldest (the last one, in fact, is a perfect gift for a ghost loving grown-up).

First up is The Seer of Shadows, by Avi (Harper Collins, 208 pages). Travel back to 19th-century New York, when photography was young, and spirits were a hot topic, and see what happens when the two meet!

Here's what Avi himself says about this book, from an essay online at the Harper Collins site: "The Seer of Shadows tells the story of young Horace Carpetine, apprenticed to a professional photographer, one who is quite willing to set up a hoax—the taking of ghost photos. But when Horace takes up his camera, he really does capture a ghost in his photographic images. What’s more, the more images he takes, the more the ghost comes back—develops, so to speak—to life. And this ghost is intent upon a murderous revenge.

I added another element to the mix: race in 1870s New York City—complex, volatile, but ultimately moving. After all, I am writing about black-and-white photography.

In short, what I am offering in The Seer of Shadows is an old-fashioned ghost story, but one in which you’ll find new strangeness, new scary stuff, and yes, striking images."

It's a pretty creepy, fascinating read, although the prose style might be a tad off putting to some younger readers, because it has a bit of an "olden times" tone to it. Because it deals with the techniques of early photography, this might be a good one to give to the young camera buff who likes an exciting story.

Here's another ghost story marketed for younger readers, although it's a book that I think most anyone will like--The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. I can't believe I left it off the first version of the list, because all but two of the main characters are, in fact, ghosts. In my defense, they are the most alive dead people I've ever met in a book. These ghosts take on the responsibility for raising an orphaned baby boy in the cemetery that is their final resting place, protecting him from dangerous forces that mean him ill. The result is a moving, engrossing, and original story that tells how young Bod (short for Nobody) grows up in the graveyard, and how, in the end, he must face what waits outside...

Next up is The Summoning (Darkest Powers, Book 1), by Kelley Armstrong (Harper Collins, 400 pages). Don't be fooled by the cover, which makes this look a bit like a steamy vampire book. It's not. Fifteen-year old Chloe saw dead people as a child, but for many years her life has been free of ghosts. But when the terribly burned janitor (who happens to be dead) accosts her at high school one day, her natural hysteria lands her in a group home for kids with mental problems. Pleasant and homey though the home might appear, it harbours dark secrets about both the living and the dead, and soon Chloe realizes that ghosts are the least of her problems...

This has moments of spookiness (although the dead people never quite convinced me), but what most interested me was the relationships that develop among the teenagers, all of whom are "special" in unusual ways, and the gradual revelation of the true nature of the home where they have been confined. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Bliss, by Lauren Myracle (Amulet Books, 464 pages, but lots of empty space)

When you've been home schooled at a commune all your life, high school can seem strange. But imagine if your new high school comes complete not only with the regular crowd of jocks, geeks, and Beautiful Girls, but a really nasty teenaged ghost as well, whose voice only you can hear. A ghost who wants out, who wants to taste blood again. The setting of the book, way back in the 1960s, adds interest to a truly toe-squirming story.

The Ghosts of Kerfol, by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick Books, 176 pages)

This is the scariest of all these four books. It is a series of five stories, moving forward in time from Edith Wharton's classic ghost story, "Kerfol," which tells of a young Frenchwoman accused of murdering her jealous husband. His body was found at the bottom of the stairs, savaged by dogs. But there were no dogs alive at the manor house of Kerfol that day...Gothic horror combined with great writing makes this one a page turner. I am not at all sure why this is marketed as a Young Adult book, because I think it is a better fit for grown ups. Although certainly many teenagers, in particular those who like their books dark and Gothic, will enjoy it as well. Not a book to read on a cold, dark night, especially if you are staying by yourself in an old French mansion.

As well as being a great ghost book, this is a Perfect Gift for the Edith Wharton fan on your list.

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