Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Review: Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko
Ghost Girl
By Ally Malinenko
Katherine Tegen Books
Format: eARC
Source: Sparkpoint Studio

To Sum It Up: In the small town of Knobb’s Ferry, not far from the famous Sleepy Hollow, Zee Puckett stands out, and not in a good way. All Zee wants is to tell her spooky stories and hang out with her best friend Elijah, but her shock of white hair makes her an easy target for teasing at school. It also doesn’t help that it’s just Zee and her older sister, Abby, having lost their mother when Zee was born and their father now gone in search of work elsewhere. As long as Zee has her stories and her friendship with Elijah, though, she can weather anything until a storm rolls through Knobb’s Ferry and seems to bring something very sinister with it. Zee soon learns that while she may love spinning scary tales, it’s a completely different thing to actually find herself living in one.

Review: With Halloween not that far away, now is the perfect time to start getting into the ghostly groove with a chilling read like Ghost Girl that also manages to warm your heart. Zee Puckett is a sixth grader in the small town of Knobb’s Ferry, which the book mentions is near the fabled Sleepy Hollow. Ally Malinenko does a great job of establishing a setting where everybody knows everybody and their business, the type of place where a girl like Zee, with her white hair, unusual name (Zee is short for Zera), and love for telling scary stories, attracts unwanted attention from other kids. It’s a good thing Zee has her best friend Elijah, the only person in Knobb’s Ferry who really gets her. Their friendship is one of the book’s standout parts.

The paranormal aspect starts creeping in when a fierce storm rocks the town and little by little begins affecting its residents. Zee and Elijah quickly realize that something is very amiss and that they are central to whatever is going on. While the identity of the villain isn’t all that hard to figure out, there’s still a good amount of mystery surrounding what exactly is happening in Knobb’s Ferry. Malinenko builds just the right amount of suspense, punctuated by some wonderfully frightening moments.

Ghost Girl also focuses on some very human elements, such as standing up for yourself and not assuming that you know everything that another person may be going through based solely on outward appearances. Perhaps the most important point that the book addresses is that no one can take something away from you that is not given freely. Although these may sound like heavier themes for a middle grade read, Malinenko incorporates them in a manner that’s subtle yet powerful.

With an ominous atmosphere, deep character development, and ample thrills, Ghost Girl more than lives up to the expectations of its eerie title. I definitely hope to see more adventures featuring Zee and her friends.

All in All: A perfect read for the fast approaching spooky season that will appeal to readers of all ages!

Monday, February 8, 2021

Review: Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Game Changer
By Neal Shusterman
Quill Tree Books
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Publication Date: February 9, 2021

To Sum It Up: Ash Bowman is a high school football player with a seemingly normal life until a hard hit during a game leaves him with the feeling that things aren’t quite right—and they aren’t. Ash, however, appears to be the only person who fully realizes that the world has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Whatever is happening around him also awakens Ash to the fact that he truly hasn’t been seeing what life is like for people who aren’t as privileged as he is. As the world continues to shift, Ash discovers that he may be able to bring about positive change, but even the smallest slip could create a new, bleak reality that is permanent.

Review: Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy blew me away with its unique premise and brilliant writing, and so I was thrilled to dive into his newest release, Game Changer. One of my favorite things about the Arc of a Scythe series was its deft, multilayered storytelling, and Shusterman doesn’t disappoint in that department here with Game Changer.

At first Game Changer appears to be a novel about an archetypal All-American high school football player named Ash Bowman. But when Ash takes a particularly hard hit on a play during a game, it literally shakes his entire world. Blue stop signs are now the norm. Ash knows something is amiss, but most of his family and friends do not. As he maneuvers this seemingly new world, Ash begins to discover that blue stop signs are the least alarming aspect.

Finding out the impact of that single event during the football game as Ash does makes for compelling reading. What exactly is going here to cause these shifts in the world? The answer involves a sci-fi twist that I thought was well done, and I’m not much of a sci-fi reader. This book reminded me a bit of David Levithan’s excellent Every Day. As he did with Arc of a Scythe, Shusterman is so great at immersing you in a world that, sometimes very eerily, isn’t too farfetched from what we know.

The heart of this book, though, lies in its timely exploration of some of the most pressing social issues we face, including racism, homophobia, and sexism. At the beginning of the novel, the extent of Ash’s social awareness is his diverse circle of friends. As he finds himself thrown into alternate universes, his white, heterosexual male privilege becomes more and more glaringly apparent to him.

While some readers may feel that the novel tries to take on too many weighty topics at once, and granted, each of them individually could absolutely be the subject of their own book, for me the takeaway here was the overall development of Ash’s realization of just how privileged and comfortable his life was back in his original world. And although his attempts to effect sweeping change and correct the injustices he can now see more clearly are sincere, they can come off seeming a bit of a simplistic approach to extremely complex problems. On the whole, though, this is a thought-provoking read that challenges how we often view the world only through the lens of our own experiences and demonstrates the need to continue the work of truly seeing and listening to the multitude of perspectives that exist.

All in All: This is the fourth Neal Shusterman book that I’ve read, and I love how he blends an impactful look at societal issues with a sci-fi/alternate universe twist. I find that his books leave me thinking about them for some time after I’ve read the last page, and Game Changer will definitely be staying with me for a while.