A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Coleman Polhemus (Henry Holt, 2009, YA, 180 pp).
In this short story collection, eight hungry ghosts from China rest unquiet in their graves, wanting revenge (and tasty snacks). Eight men and women, from ancient times to the modern era, die horrific deaths, and come back to take the living with them...and their stories make compellingly gory reading.
There's lots of blood. There are horrible deaths. I flinched. I wouldn't give it to a young reader. And yet, it's a rather cheerful book.
Partly this is because the stories aren't desperately subtle--the ghosts take vigorous action, rather than exerting hideous psychological tortures on the reader. It's even a bit over the top at times. In short, it's not going to give me nightmares.
But wait, there's more. This book is, after all, a banquet...Interspersed with the stories, each one titled with the name of a Chinese dish, are historical background notes, food chat and recipes. Engaging (and very enticing, food-wise), these non-fiction elements lift the reader briskly out of the gore. They strengthen the book not just by providing something completely different, but by making the stories rather wonderfully all of a cultural piece, educating while entertaining.
In short, I found it a pleasantly diverting read that served nicely to take my mind of my own hungry ghosts/boys (they are sadly lacking in gumption when it comes to getting their own snacks).
Other reviews at The Book Owl, Book Dragon, and The Places You Will Go.
Compestine also the author of Cooking with Green Tea, and Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, a YA novel about growing up during the Cultural Revolution.