Friday, May 18, 2018

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

Rosa Diaz is angry, grieving, and confused. She comes from a long line of expert ghost-appeasers, i.e. librarians, and can't understand why her mother, one of the best in the business, has moved them to Ingot the only unhaunted town in the world. When Rosa meets Jasper Chevalier, whose only wish is to disappear in the shadow of his renaissance-fair obsessed father, she at first takes out her anger on him. Gradually, however, the two become friends. It's a good thing they do since Ingot isn't going to be unhaunted for long - and something very dangerous is coming.

Alexander builds a familiar but strange world skillfully, dropping hints and clues along the way without over-explaining, letting readers use their imagination to fill out the story. There are moments of frightening terror, moments of gentle warmth, excitement, magic, and the telling of family secrets.

SPOILERS
One thing I did have a hard time believing was that Rosa, who is from cosmopolitan New York, would be surprised that Jasper is biracial, having a white mother and black father. That seemed really odd. However, kids are nothing if not unobservant of life around them I've found so it's possible that she never thought about her biracial friends or classmates. It's gradually revealed that Rosa's father is dead, having been killed in a mistaken attempt to banish rather than appease a ghost, and some readers might be frustrated that Rosa's mom is so withdrawn in her grief, refusing to communicate or explain to her daughter what's happening.

I did appreciate that Alexander packed the whole story into one slim volume, under 200 pages, but it's a complete story with some thoughtful reflection on history, family, and the choices that people make and the way they remember the dead.

Verdict: This was a Cybils finalist in 2017 and it's well-deserved; it's not often I have a book that combines diversity, humor, horror, and fantasy in such well-blended amounts. Hand to readers who like stories with a little shiver but not too much and those who are comfortable reading about ghosts.

ISBN: 9781481469159; Published 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry; Purchased for the library

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