A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo


A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo (Sept 7, 2021, Scholastic), is a lovely real-world fantasy for middle grade readers.

Tennie (short for Tennessee) is wearing herself out trying to be a Good Child, a child who can keep her mother's depression at bay, a child who can look after her little siblings, a child who doesn't make trouble.  Her parents are in a rough spot financially and mentally, but her mom won't ask her own mother for help.  Instead, they are pretending everything is ok.  The plan is to drop Tennie's big brother off at grandmother's on their way to a new, smaller, home, but he doesn't want to stay out in the small wooded hillside town of Howler's Hollow.  Tennie does, desperately, and without actually having to ask directly for what she wants, it happens, and she's the one left behind.

She loves her grandma, loves the woods, and there's even a new friend.  Fox is friendly and is eager to include Tennie in their ghost hunting,  But her grandma isn't as much of a safe haven as Tennie wants her to be--she's on the edge of growing broke, and has a rich new boy friend, who sets off all sorts of alarm bells immediately in the reader's  mind.  Tennie can't help but question how much Fox really wants to be friends, and the ghost hunting succeeds, and explodes into a terrifying haunting.  

On top of this, Tennie is keeping a big secret from her new friend.  Tennie has a magical gift, or possibly curse--when she touches something, she picks up the thoughts and emotions of its owner. It's been a horrible source of stress for her.  Fox has a secret too--they are looking for one particular, very dear, ghost...and though they aren't actually keeping these secret from each other, both kids are shyly and sweetly wondering if they might be on track to being more than just friends....

But the ghosts get in the way of peaceful life, and in their terrifying, angry way, they are trying to help with their warnings that the  forest is in danger.  Plenty of spookiness, mystery solving, and more than a touch of ruckus ensues!  And Tennie, to save this place she loves, and bring her family together, sheds the shell of Good Child and says what needs to be said, and does what needs to be done.

There's so much to like in this one!  I especially liked how Tennie was able to move on from her impossible, self-appointed role in her family, and how her mother actually had recognized she had depression and was doing something about it--it is rare in MG fiction to have a parent with mental illness who actually doesn't need her kid to hold everything together.  I also especially liked the very sweet relationship between Tennie and Fox, not just the hint of coming romance (although I'm glad to have another addition to my list of LGBTQ relationships in MG speculative fiction) but the realistic portrayal of the squirmy tension of getting a true friendship started; both kids make missteps, but realize that being honest about what they were thinking fixes things. 

And finally, the ghosts were great, and their story and what they are hoping to accomplish brings in a nice bit of environmentalism into the mix, which I am always there for. 

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. I loved Ash's first book. Her new one sounds awesome too. I will defnitely add it to be TBR list. Thanks!


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