The pitch: In a last-ditch attempt to save their friendship, Zach, Poppy, and Alice go on a road trip led by a ghost. A relatable friendship story with a lot of adventure and just a little bit of creepiness.
The review: I loved this! Like When You Reach Me, it can be read as a story of the supernatural, but for kids who are not into that it will be a straight-up engaging story of friendship. It hits all the right middle grade issues of growing up slower than your friends, boy and girl friends starting to separate, anger at your family that you can’t even explain.
There’s a gorgeous sense of place here, a Pennsylvania town near the Ohio border that’s seen better days. (When I figured out it was set in western PA, where I grew up, I immediately busted out Google Maps to track their journey.) The characters’ backgrounds involve financial stress, mixed races, and unconventional family structures, without those being called out as unusual (because, of course, they aren’t).
Great for boys or girls, ages 9-12 or so, who enjoy or don’t mind a tiny touch of spookiness in their stories. It’s only at campfire-shiver level, and does not dominate the book. I especially recommend this to kids who feel like their friends are growing up faster than they are. And extra-especially to the ones who need to play some D&D. Would someone introduce Poppy, Zach, and Alice to D&D right away?
Read-alikes: When You Reach Me, The Egypt Game