I’m definitely a chicken when it comes to scary stories, but middle grade novels include just the right amount of fright without scaring me too much. I recently read What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie? at a large, mostly empty house in the mountains of Colorado, where silence is more absolute than it is in the city. This book was perfect in this setting, but it definitely had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.
Ginny Anderson is ready for her summer vacation and the writing workshop she is scheduled to take with her best friend Erica. Determined to walk in her idol, Agatha Christie’s footsteps, Ginny is looking forward to learning more about writing mystery stories in anticipation of a bright future as an author. However, when she learns that she and her family will be living in Woodmoor Manor in Michigan for most of the summer and Ginny will have to postpone her workshop, she is devastated. Despite her intense desire to escape her fate, Ginny soon finds herself in the middle of a mystery more complex than she could have imagined. Please see my full review here.
At first, I thought that Ginny was feeling jumpy because the house was creepy and the legends of the town were based on little more than an old, empty mansion. However, the plot quickly escalates, incorporating frightening moments that raised my heart rate and had me looking over my shoulder, expecting the worst. The writing in this book is excellently crafted, using a blend of sentence length—especially very brief phrases—that accurately reflect the thoughts people tend to have. This helps the story move easily, and as readers become more involved, the pages turn even faster.
Especially interesting is that this story engages readers with the narrative while walking them through the structure of a typical mystery novel. Several times, Ginny reflects on what would be happening if it were a book, including terms like “red herring” and how mysteries tend to be solved. Middle grade readers will receive an education in this writing style while simultaneously enjoying a story that follows this pattern.
I don’t love to be scared, but the excitement level of this book was just right for me. Enough terror to be engaging, with a reasonable resolution that makes me comfortable turning the lights off at night. Open to a sequel, readers will be curious to learn what Ginny gets involved with next and what the future of Woodmoor Manor will look like. I felt this title didn’t adequately encompass the primary features of this story, but perhaps this will come into play more in book two. This is a great fit for middle grade readers who enjoy scary stories and solving mysteries with smart, collaborative protagonists.
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