Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud (Disney-Hyperion, upper Middle Grade, September 17, 2013)
In an alternate England, something (not explained yet) went awry, and the country is plagued by ghosts. Ghosts who can kill, which makes them especially troublesome. Fortunately, they can be dispatched by those with the proper equipment and training (as shown on the cover). Kids can see the ghosts better than grown-ups...and so they are the combatants in the front line of ghost hunting, which, of course, means that grown-ups can exploit them. And replace them when the ghosts kill them.
But Lockwood and Co. is a different sort of ghost-hunting business. Anthony Lockwood, still young enough to see ghosts himself, runs his own company. And when Lucy Carlyle, down her luck after her previous employment went sour in a deadly way, knocks on the door, he gives her a job. Supported by a third teen, the somewhat nerdy George (the research arm of the organization), Lockwood and Co. is ready to take the ghost hunting world by storm...
Except that things go wrong. Burning down a house by accident may be a surefire way to get rid of haunted room, but it's expensive. To pay of the debt incurred after that mischance, Lockwood and Co. agree to take on the ghosts of one of the most haunted houses in England...a place that can kill a ghost hunting kid, no matter how smart or well-prepared he or she might be.
So that's more or less the set-up, but it doesn't doesn't do justice to the adventures of ghost hunting and all the details of the world-building and the near-death experiences and restless hauntings and old murder mystery etc.!
It's mainly Lucy's story--she's the newcomer to Lockwood and Co., and we meet the two boys through her, and what is especially great is that we don't know any more about them than she does, and it is clear that there is just tons more to them than we see in this first book! The reader is given a chance to think and wonder, and I appreciated that. I enjoyed their company, too--they are smart, and sarcastic, and more vulnerable than they'd like to think they are....
So great characters, great premise, exciting ghosts and I Cannot Wait till the next book, when more about the very charming Anthony Lockwood, and more about the geekily appealing George, might be revealed! We already know Lucy pretty well, but I'm curious about how her relationships with the boys might change...
Note on age of reader: the ghosts are scary, the blood is bloody, and the deaths are real. I'm not giving this one to my ten year old...maybe next year, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to third or fourth graders. But it definitely feels more Middle Grade than YA--it's plucky kids taking on the grown-up world, rather than teens becoming grown-ups and finding luv. Give this one to a smart eleven- or twelve-year-old who likes a bit of violent supernatural gore, or the reader who likes zesty mysteries and intelligent writing, and who can tolerate supernatural gore, or some combination of the two.
I was a pretty appreciative reader myself (mostly because of being really interested in the characters). Leila was too--here's her post at Kirkus.
Reviewed from an ARC procured for me at ALA by Anamaria of Books Together, to whom I am very grateful.