Paris Pan Takes the Dare, by Cynthea Liu (Putnam, 2009, 246pp, middle grade), balances on a razor's edge (well, perhaps not quite) between supernatural chills and the angst of being the new kid at a very small rural middle school in Sugar Lake, OK. It's so small that every girl has to play on the basketball team. From my point of view, that is the true horror of the book, but for Paris Pan, that unpleasantness palls beside the fact that, if she wants to keep her two new friends, she will have to take THE DARE.
Not to long ago, the girl who lived in Paris' new house disappeared on her thirteenth birthday. Her body was later found, or at least, most of it was found. Her killer, if killer there was, was not. Ever since, according to Mayo, the alpha girl in Paris' tiny class, it has been a rite of passage to follow that girl's footsteps into the dark woods, and spend the night where she died.
Now Paris is hearing spooky noises outside, strange artifacts of the dead girl's life are turning up in the garden, and Mayo is pressuring her to commune with the spirit world...All Paris wants is to have friends after a life of shunting briskly between schools, but she really, really, doesn't want to take The Dare.
Great characterization, especially with regard to the relationship between Paris and her Chinese-American family, a snappy plot, and a creepy atmosphere combine to make this a very enjoyable book, that girls, in particular, from fourth grade or so on up, should enjoy. I've labeled it fantasy, because there is a supernatural plot line, although, of course, there is no such thing as ghosts. Or so Paris tries hard to believe...
Other reviews can be found at BookDragon and Practically Paradise, and here's a chat with Liu at Cynsations.
Kudos to Liu for using the launch of her book to raise money in not inconsiderable quantities to support a needy Title I school in Oklahoma. It was this fundraiser that prompted me to buy the book--Liu donated all her royalties during the fundraising period to this effort.