The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano

If you like orphans and ghosts, and creepy mysteries, The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano (Bloomsbury, middle grade, Sept 13, 2016) is a book for you!

Marybeth and Lionel are best friends, even though they are completely different.  Both are orphans, looked after in the crowded home of Mrs. Mannerd, but Lionel is a wild boy, who thinks of himself as a feral creature, and who acts like one.  Marybeth is the opposite; she is reliable, conscientious, well-mannered, and well-groomed.  Then Lionel, prowling outdoors as is his wont, sees a strange  creature of blue light, and the blue whatever-it-is takes possession of Marybeth. 

Sometimes Marybeth can hold on to her self, but sometimes the fear and anger of the blue creature overcomes her control.  Her eyes change color, and she acts even more wild than Lionel.  Lionel can't help Marybeth control the creature.  But in order to help his friend, who Mrs. Mannerd thinks is loosing her mind, Lionel must do something even harder, and act as though he is a human child, so that he and Marybeth can stay together long enough to find a way to save her before she is sent away.

And this means solving a decades old, horribly sad mystery, that can only be done if the blue creature will cooperate....

Lionel's own story is a sad one too; he has good reasons for not wanting to be a human child, and the tension of his situation adds great poignancy to the story.  Mrs. Mannerd too is revealed to be not just a stereotypical runner-of-foster-home, but someone with whom the reader can sympathize.  And Marybeth is loveable, and it is tense as all get out to see her struggle with the blue creature. 

Things move along swiftly, with lots of supernatural suspense, in a tight package of just over 208 pages.  The relatively short length, and the relatable characters, make this a good one for young readers who want ghost stories that pull at the heartstrings.  I myself read it with much enjoyment in a single sitting.

Note of caution-- the ultimate answer to the mystery involves murder and the strong implication of sexual violence, but it is not explicitly stated and younger readers will probably not grasp all that is hinted at.  Likewise, it becomes clear that Lionel's birth family were abusive and neglectful, but again the details aren't spelled out.

review copy received from the publisher

(The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart is eligible for the 2016 Cybils Awards in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and has not yet been nominated....so if you love it, feel free to throw its hat into the ring--more information on how to do so here)

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