Goodreads: Ghost Girl
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
Publication Date: August 10, 2021
Perfect for fans of Small Spaces and Nightbooks, Ally Malinenko’s middle-grade debut is an empowering and triumphant ghost story—with spooky twists sure to give readers a few good goosebumps!
Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.
It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.
When she tells her classmates, only her best friend, Elijah, believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.
But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.
To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them—Zee, Elijah, and Nellie—will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.
Ghost Girl is a creepy middle-grade novel that will appeal to fans of Small Spaces. When a new principal comes to town and promises everyone their deepest desires, only Zoe seems immune to his charms. But she has seen the supernatural dogs roaming the graveyard, and she knows that the people and the things the principal is conjuring cannot be real. However, the lure of having what one wants most can be stronger even than the truth. Ghost Girl does not particularly stand out from similar spooky middle-grade titles, but may appeal to tween readers who enjoy thrills and chills.
The premise of having a trickster-like character who promises one thing but delivers another is, of course, a very old one. As such, it does potentially have instant appeal–the character has been around so long for a reason. However, the familiarity of the concept can also make it difficult to make it feel new. In the case of Ghost Girl, the plot is a pretty standard one: the trickster comes to town, is recognized for what he is by a child, and then defeated by the rules of his own game. The signature sparks that make the tale feel original? Unfortunately, they are mostly lacking.
Great characters could have made this book really come alive. However, Zee also feels a bit standard as a protagonist. She is the odd girl at school, the one who prefers spooky stories and the world of the imagination to the horrible feeling of reality–her dead mom, her missing dad, her classmate bullies. Her main trait of originality is that she can actually be rather mean and dishonest, despite her complaints about the way others act. This mean streak, however, sometimes work against Zee, making it difficult to root for her. Her friend Elijah and her nemesis Nellie add a bit more of interest to the story, but their sudden romantic interest in each other feels forced, arguably ruining what could have been a fine tale of budding friendships.
The writing style also worked against the story for me. While it can be difficult at times to pinpoint exactly what about a writing style is grating, merely the fact that I noticed the writing style, instead of seamlessly falling into the story, is not a good sign. If I had not felt compelled to finish the book in order to write a review, I likely would have stopped several pages in, from the writing alone.
Despite my reading experience, however, I recognize that the tween audience for which the book is intended might not be as concerned about originality as I am, and that many might even enjoy seeing another outsider character. Middle school, after all, can be rough, and many young people often feel that they do not belong, either. They may enjoy the book as something new, when I cannot, since I have read many similar titles. And they might relate to Zee in a way I do not, again having seen too many similar characters. Ultimately, the reading experience was solid enough, if not extraordinary.