Book: The Girl with the Ghost Machine
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Age Range: 8-12
I enjoyed Lauren DeStefano's two previous middle grade ghost stories, The Curious Tale of the In-Between and The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart), so I was happy to receive an early copy of her upcoming The Girl with the Ghost Machine. The girl of the title is 12-year-old Emmaline Beaumont, whose beloved mother died two years earlier. Emmaline more or less lost her father, Julien, at the same time, as Julien developed an obsession around building a machine to bring back her mother's ghost. When the machine demonstrates a degree of success, though at a painful cost, Emmaline's life becomes particularly challenging.
I found The Girl with the Ghost Machine, like DeStefano's other books, to be a book that was difficult to put down. This was due to a combination of intriguing plot (Would the ghost machine work? Would Emmaline's father put aside his quest in favor of his living daughter?), ghostly tone, powerful musings, and strong relationships between the characters. Like this:
"Emmaline understood immediately what she had done. What she had cost her father. Without his ghost machine to give him hope, he would have to understand that Margeaux Beaumont in all her forms was gone.
The light began to face, until Emmaline was left standing in blackness. Not even the moonlight could enter through the soot on the tiny basement window.
Her heart was pounding. But she wasn't sorry. She did what needed to be done." (Page 24, ARC)
I especially enjoyed Emmaline's friendship with twins Oliver and Gully, identical in appearance but quite different in personality.
"Here is the way it had always been: Gully was born first, by three minutes and fifteen seconds. As they got older, Gully remained a heartbeat ahead of his brother, holding out his hand to pull him up onto steep embankments when they went hiking, forging ahead into dark rooms at night to be sure it was safe, standing on chairs to reach the top shelf so his brother wouldn't have to." (Page 70, ARC)
""We'll walk you," Oliver said, rooting his finger around the bottom of the mug to scoop up the last of the cocoa. Emmaline couldn't help smiling at him. There was always something in the world to be happy about, and Oliver found these little things with ease." (Page 75)
Wouldn't YOU want to be friends with them?
The apparently small-town French setting adds to the other-worldly feel of the book, without including any details that will puzzle young readers. There's a timeless feel to the story, too, with no cell phones or electronic devices, and the simple pleasures of going to a cafe or skating on a pond.
A word of warning for gatekeepers. In addition to the loss of Emmaline's mother, another sad incident takes place later in the book. I saw the incident coming and saw it as necessary to the plot, and so was not personally bothered, but children who dislike sad books may want to hold off on reading The Girl with the Ghost Machine. The ending of the book is satisfying and hopeful, but there are tears along the way. The old-fashioned melodramatic feel of the book should help to insulate modern-day children from this sadness in any event.
The bottom line for me is that, at a time when I normally struggle to stay awake to read in the evenings, The Girl with the Ghost Machine grabbed my attention and held on, keeping me turning the pages. I liked Emmaline and cared what happened to her, and was also curious about the mechanics and implications of the ghost machine. And I liked Gully and Oliver very much, too. The Girl with the Ghost Machine is a book that will stay with me, and that I recommend to ghost story fans of all ages (eight and up).
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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