The Ghost of Graylock is a new middle grade / middle school novel by Dan Poblocki. As one might expect, it's a ghost story, reminiscent of the stories of Mary Downing Hahn. The Ghost of Graylock is creepy, suspenseful, and kid-friendly.
When 12-year-old Neil and his 16-year-old sister Bree are sent to live with their aunts in the country for the summer, they waste no time in exploring (with two new friends) the mysterious Graylock Hall. Graylock is a former mental hospital, now abandoned. Rumors swirl about three teens who died there, possibly at the hands of an evil nurse. People say that Nurse Janet still haunts the boarded-up building. Inside Graylock, Neil and Bree do see creepy, hard-to-explain phenomena. Even worse, the odd manifestations follow them home. They are forced to investigate, to understand who exactly is haunting them, and why.
I have to give Dan Poblocki credit. He pulls out all the stops in terms of eeriness. Graylock is full of dark corridors and sad artifacts of a bleak past. There's a hidden staircase, and a long-abandoned birthday cake. There are records of the suffering of children. The setting is carefully depicted. Like this:
"They walked in silence. The road led to a circular turnaround in front of the building. On the other side of the circle was the hospital's main entrance -- a wide stone staircase that rose toward a recessed entry. Within the shadows of the portal, impenetrable black iron doors were chained shut.
The building was not wide, but each of its three stories seemed to rise taller than the last, so that the place loomed as if ti were actually leaning toward them, trying to hypnotize them forward." (Page 20)
By page 33, Neil and Bree are experiencing supernatural phenomena. These manifestations continue unabated. There are hints of Neil and Bree's mother's mental illness in the fact that no one else sees the ghost, but it's pretty clear to the reader that something outside of the ordinary is going on. Like this:
"Wide-eyed, he and his sister stared at each other, their faces lit by the camera from below. Slowly, they turned. At the other side of the room, near the window, a dark shape stood completely still. It looked like one of their own shadows. Neil knew this was impossible. The camera's light was between them and the shape. Their shadows should been cast on the door behind them. Shaking, unable to speak, Neil held up the camera, trying to see who was there. (Page 36)
I liked the strength of the sibling relationship in The Ghost of Graylock, and the matter-of-fact treatment of the fact that "the aunts" are apparently a lesbian couple. I also liked the way the kids solve the mystery, using a combination of modern-day tools (web searches) and traditional methods (interviewing an old woman in a nursing home, reviewing high school yearbooks). The presence of the two older siblings (the friends are a pair of brothers about the same age as Bree and Neil) gives the younger kids a bit more freedom than might otherwise be plausible.
Poblocki's prose did grate on me a bit. He tends to overuse and overdramatize metaphors (in my opinion). Like this:
"The trio sprinted toward the bend in the corridor, where daylight greeted them like a parent waiting with open arms... Memories of the Nurse Janet story flickered through his head like old film from a loud projector". (Page 37)
"A wide, stone mantel was set deep into the far wall. A fireplace blackened with soot opened like a howl beneath it." (Page 43)
Seriously? "Opened like a howl"? I suppose if he's going for how a melodramatic 12-year-old might write ... But this only really bothered me for the first part of the book. Once I got swept up into the plot, I didn't notice the writing so much, and read the remainder of the book quickly.
The Ghost of Graylock is a spooky summer read, perfect for reading in bed with a flashlight. The setting, particularly the decaying Graylock Hall, is vivid and memorable, and the depiction of supernatural events is both dramatic and creative. Recommended for middle grade and middle school readers, boys and girls.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).