Dad, in Spirit

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"Sure, he was distracted a lot, but my dad was still a cool guy. I would've thought so even if he weren't my dad, and I wanted him back."

Ebon will never memorize the phone book like his brother, Sam; he can't sew Halloween costumes like his sister, Joliet; and he'll certainly never build a backyard castle like his dad. So Ebon grudgingly accepts his place as the normal kid in a weird family — that is, until the day Dad falls asleep.

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"Sure, he was distracted a lot, but my dad was still a cool guy. I would've thought so even if he weren't my dad, and I wanted him back."

Ebon will never memorize the phone book like his brother, Sam; he can't sew Halloween costumes like his sister, Joliet; and he'll certainly never build a backyard castle like his dad. So Ebon grudgingly accepts his place as the normal kid in a weird family — that is, until the day Dad falls asleep.

Working on the local haunted house, Dad hits his head and slips into a coma. Ebon's goal is to get Dad to wake up. It might be more than Ebon can handle, though, especially when Dad starts wandering around the house like a ghost. After all, how can Dad be a ghost if he's alive lying in a hospital bed? Ebon must find a way to unite Dad's spirit with his body — before Dad sleeps forever.

In her first contemporary novel A. LaFaye turns a potentially tragic circumstance into a magical story of the power of one family's love. Distinguished by LaFaye's trademark storytelling, Dad, in Spirit will tickle your funny bone as it touches your heart.

Ebon's father, who is in a coma, appears to the family as a wandering spirit, and Ebon must reunite the spirit and the body before it is too late.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Nine-year-old Ebon Jones loves to help his dad create the town haunted house, and this year is no exception. Ebon is sure he is the odd person in his quirky family. His dad is a writer and also does research for novelists; his mother is a sculptor who specializes in gargoyles; even his sister Joliet loves to sew and makes costumes for plays. Ebon has none of these talents, but he makes himself useful each year to dad as he works in the haunted house. One evening dad falls over some junk on the floor of the haunted house and the next day suddenly lapses into a coma. Ebon is determined to be the family member who helps dad wake up from the awful nightmare. As days turn into weeks, Ebon becomes aware that somehow he has the ability to contact dad's sleeping spirit. Ebon can hear his father talking to him, and he also sees him around the house. Through dad's terrible accident, Ebon discovers he too is a special member of his unique family. 2001, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.00. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Sue Reichard
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Ebon Jones, the nine-year-old narrator, has always felt like the least exceptional member of his unusual family. His father, in particular, is an odd duck who keeps erratic hours, delights in esoteric minutiae, and involves the family in elaborate games. When Dad lapses into a coma after suffering a fall, however, it's ordinary Ebon who begins to hear him speaking, who begins to see him materializing around their house, and, strangest of all, who enables his mother and siblings to experience Dad, too. Counter to all scientific and medical expectations, perhaps thanks only to Ebon's steadfast love and overwhelming need to have his father back, the man recovers completely from his concussion. Best of all, having rejoined the family, he seems resolved to maintain closer relationships with them. LaFaye has written before about children with nonconformist parents, but this is her first attempt to do so in a contemporary setting-modern Minneapolis. Somehow, the suspension of disbelief necessary for enjoying this novel is a little more difficult than for her books set in the South some 50 years ago. Nonetheless, Dad, in Spirit is original, provocative, and ultimately joyous.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A wildly unlikely tale of family love and near-loss from LaFaye (Nissa's Place, 1999, etc.). Fourth-grader (and narrator) Ebon Jones is the ordinary-man-out in his zany family: his little brother is a math whiz and a master storyteller; his older sister is a costume designer without parallel; his mother carves gargoyles for a living; and his father, a researcher for other people's historical novels, pours his creative energies into fantastic building projects, including a two-story castle in the backyard and the town's annual haunted house. During work on that project, he suffers a mysterious brain injury that renders him comatose and separates his spirit from his body. This spirit manifests itself initially, and most strongly, to Ebon, who takes it upon himself to reunite his father's body and soul to bring him back. What ensues is a string of reunification attempts punctuated by fond reminiscences of his father's wild and crazy ways. The sheer outsized wonderfulness of Dad and studied uniqueness of the family make the story hard to swallow, as does the scattershot approach to reunification—some of Ebon's efforts feel arbitrarily added to stretch the story out, rather than to serve a cohesive narrative. The setting is incompletely established and does not communicate itself to the reader: all the settings seem impossibly close together with very little geography in between, and the weather is remarkably—and unremarked as such—mild for Minneapolis in November. The final climactic scene, in which Ebon goes with his father through . . . the Underworld? Limbo? . . . well, someplace between life and death, is as incompletely realized as the setting. The family dynamicis enjoyable, if unbelievable, but this is not enough to rescue this confused effort. Revisit Ursula K. Le Guin's The Farthest Shore instead. (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689815140
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 6/1/1901
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Halloween, Jones Style




Nothing Normal About It

Making Sure


Daffodils and Glimpses

Castle Rook

Rip van Winkle Disease

A Ghost?

On the Run

He Said "Cough Syrup"!

Dad, the Living Ghost

A Picnic (Dad Style)

No Denying It

Dad's Back! (Sort Of)

The Big Questions

Dr. Vento, the Demento

A Little Bit of Heaven

The Answer Man

Ebon's Plan in Action

Coming Home

An Into-Body Experience

A Helping Hand

A Final Solution

Home Again, Whole Again

A Miracle

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First Chapter

Chapter One: Halloween, Jones Style

Jack-o'-lanterns lit up our front lawn like supernatural yard lights. The dust-spitting whine of Mom's stone grinder buzzed through the dark around them as she scrambled to fill all her gargoyle orders. After working a full day down at the Guardian Insurance office, she chiseled away on miscarved tombstones to make those spooky stone dudes. She usually made a few of them for craft fairs and such, but come fall the orders poured in like fan mail.

My older sister, Joliet, had gone into full production mode too. A few years ago she sewed the costumes for the sixth-grade production of Peter Pan. Marisa Ortiz liked her Peter costume so much she wore it for Halloween that year. Pretty soon all the kids in school wanted a Joliet Jones original for trick-or-treating. To keep up with the demand, Joliet would start working on new designs in January. She'd get enough orders for costumes to keep her sewing almost every night from the beginning of school to Halloween — she had the stereo, the new clothes, and the college fund to prove it. That girl made enough money to stake a high roller at an Atlantic City craps table. Dad even had to build a sewing annex onto her room so she could store all the costumes. That place filled up, rack by rack, with fairies, grim reapers, courtiers, griffins, and swans waiting to come to life.

Last year she transformed my suit-wearing principal, Mrs. Gilford, into a fairy godmother — sparkly dress, corset, wand, and all. I couldn't wait to see what Joliet turned her into next.

Meanwhile, my little brother, Samuel, wandered through the house memorizing every ghost story ever presented as the truth. He wanted to know them all — from the phantom handprint left by a window-cleaning fireman who died in the fire that called him away from his housekeeping duties, to the wispy flapper who haunted the site of the Chicago dance hall where she died, sighted by dancers, passersby, and cabbies alike.

My favorite one was about the relative who refused to leave. Uncle Otto continued to rock away the night hours in his bedroom years after he died. When the family talked about selling the house, Otto cast his vote by taking his bedroom door off the hinges and throwing it down the stairs. That little temper tantrum clinched it for the family. They moved out in a jiffy.

Dad kept busy haunting the local Y. As a carpenter who treated each new project like an invention, he took on the job of annual curator for our neighborhood haunted house. The Y built a new place a few years back and made plans to tear down the old Victorian building, but Dad wouldn't hear of it. He promised he'd keep the Y in clean towels if they'd let him turn the old place into a haunted house every year. He did more than keep his promise. Last year they made enough money to add a whirlpool.

Dad didn't go for ghouly sound tracks, strobe lighting, grape eyeballs, or spaghetti guts. He actually converted the old Y building into a moaning, creaky spook house complete with secret passages, projected spirits, and floating objects. Folks came from as far as Wisconsin to see Dad's yearly spectacle in our small neighborhood here in Minneapolis.

With the rest of the family in full festival mode, that left me, Ebon Jones, the boring member of the Jones Family Halloween Quintet. I'd never wind up on the Oscar stage accepting an award for costume design like Joliet. I couldn't give a whole audience a coat of goose bumps the way Samuel did every time he told a ghost story. Even with Dad's help, my Boy Scout birdhouse had looked like it'd been built on a hill in a strong wind. And the one time I tried to carve something out of rock, I ended up chipping a hole right through Mom's workbench. Nope, I was just plain old Ebon Jones. I spent my time helping out where I could — hunting down new tales for Samuel, polishing stone ghoulies for Mom, basting for Joliet, or fetching tools for Dad.

Gopher duties aside, I guess I had one talent. I could solve a mean puzzle. Weird as it sounds, I actually loved doing word problems on math tests. Give me a puzzle and I was in mental heaven. I loved how you could twist and turn things around in your head until they became new things. I guess Dad was the same way. That was why he loved remodeling Hamilton Hall year after year — it was a puzzle he had to take apart and put back together again.

I would've loved to do more than just fetch tools for Dad while he remodeled Hamilton Hall, but he was a solo show. He didn't even let me help when he was researching. Haunting historical societies, libraries, and any reference database available online, Dad did background research for authors. If they wanted to do a book set at a Maine hotel that burned down a hundred years ago, Dad would find out what kind of towels hung in the bathroom, if he could. And when his brain was in danger of bursting if he didn't tell someone about all the cool facts he'd learned, he hunted me down. He'd wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me about his newest discovery. Take Charles Goodyear as an example. Dad found out that the first few times the guy thought he'd invented vulcanized rubber (that's rubber that doesn't easily melt), he sold rubber coats, shirts, and underwear. You'd think the guy had invented the button, the way people snatched up his clothes. Too bad they couldn't keep them once they'd put them on on a hot summer day. They melted. Can you imagine walking down the street and having your underwear melt down your leg? That's what you get for buying rubber drawers in the first place, I guess.

Yeah, the stories Dad shared were really cool, but I would've loved to be more than his audience or his gopher. See, no one but Dad was allowed inside the Hamilton Hall Haunted House until Halloween night. He was always squawking over the walkie-talkie to get me to run over with some gadget or another, then meeting me at a back door.

Dad always unveiled his newest incarnation of Hamilton Hall on Halloween, but he insisted on having everything done so he could take the day before Halloween off. He usually needed the rest. Hamilton Hall was open only one night, so people started coming as soon as it got dark, and kept filing through until dawn. The line went all the way to the end of the block throughout the night.

Two days before Halloween was Dad's last chance for finishing everything, so he'd started working at dawn. As his designated gopher, I'd made enough runs to and from Hamilton Hall to wear a new path through our back woods. At half past eight I heard Dad shout, "Well, nail me in a coffin till morning, I'm done!"

Grabbing up the walkie-talkie, I shouted to congratulate Dad as I ran downstairs. Dad sang "Celebration" at full blast as I darted through Samuel's room, down the back stairs to Joliet's room, then down the front stairs and through the kitchen to Mom's workshop.

Stopping at the front door, I met Dad as he walked in, still singing.

"Are we ready?" he shouted up the stairs. Tall enough to touch the bottom of the chandelier in our ten-foot-high front hall, Dad was a big guy with a lot of lung room, so you could hear him all the way up to the fourth floor, where I hung out.

Everyone showed up in a flash, ready to celebrate. The Jones family always celebrated at Kingston's, the restaurant where you ordered dessert first. We'd start with a caramel chocolate pie, then launch into a garbage pizza — everything on it from pepperoni to tuna. We'd eat the toppings with a fork, then roll up the crust like a burrito and dip it in pizza sauce. It was the best.

Dad made sure we got one of their private rooms so we could have our own celebration. We'd downed dessert before Joliet even finished telling us about the dragon costume she had just finished for the Tinsdale triplets.

We cheered the waiter when he brought the pizza. Harpooning Joliet's discarded pepperonis with a toothpick, I leaned over to ask Dad, "Could you help me study for my math test?"

I could do a word problem with half my brain in reverse, but long division and decimal points tied my thoughts into knots. And there was no way I'd ask my little brother for help. Samuel did math problems in his sleep. I'd heard him mumbling his way through the multiplication tables when he snoozed during car trips. Thanks to him, I was the only fourth grader with a younger brother in his class.

Dipping pizza crust into his milk, Dad said, "Sure, sure. When we get home."

Dad said "sure" like most people answer the greeting "Hi, how you doing?" People just say, "I'm good. What's up with you?" even when they've just flunked a math test. Dad didn't mean that he'd study with me. Maybe he meant it in the way people who want to let you know they care about you do when they ask how you're doing, but they really don't want to know the details — they've got better things to do. Dad probably wanted to help me study, but knowing him, he'd get drawn into a late-night research project and forget all about it.

Turning to Samuel, Dad said, "How about a dry run on your show for tomorrow night?"


Mom turned down the lights so we could all listen to Samuel tell tales of the dead returning to the land of the living. He had to practice for the big night. As the pretour entertainment at Hamilton Hall, he stood out front on a black-veiled stage murmuring his stories into a microphone, while Mom ran the sound board, Joliet outfitted the ghoulies who ran around inside, and Dad played the part of special effects wizard. Me, I collected tickets.

As Samuel led us down a dark, winding road in Hudson, Wisconsin, to investigate an eerie glow under a bridge on Cooley Road, Mom said, "Luke Jones, what is this on your head?"

"Nothing," Dad insisted.

"Joliet, get the lights," Mom said.

Joliet jumped up and fumbled for the switch.

As the light came on, Mom stood up to inspect the back of Dad's head. "There's a welt back here large enough to be harboring a golf ball."

"It's a hazard of the trade. I took a little spill. That's all." Dad took off the old conductor's cap he always wore while constructing, and rubbed his head.

"You could have a concussion."

Dad turned to her, his eyes crossed, "Why, are my pupils dilated?"

"Cut it out." Mom swatted him.

"It only hurts when I blink." Dad fluttered his eyes.

"One of these years you're going to fall and impale yourself on a screwdriver. Nobody will find you for days, and all the visitors will think you're one of the attractions."

"Now, that'd be a showstopper." Dad nodded.

Mom shook her head, knowing there was no stopping Dad. Safety ruined the fun in his mind. He had scrapes, scars, bumps, and memories of broken bones as evidence of all the fun he'd had in his life.

After Kingston's we went to Bailey's Lawn Ornaments and Monuments. We had a blast. Mom wandered around with her flashlight getting ideas. The rest of us played hide-and-seek. It was more like hide-and-find with us. Dad always found everyone.

He loved being it. He'd count to two hundred so everyone could find a real good hiding place, then "sneak find" us all. He'd shout, "Here I come! Hide your toes!" Then he'd fall silent. He didn't talk. He didn't shuffle his feet. I never even heard him breathe. You couldn't tell the hunt had begun.

One minute I'd be peeking around the hairy arm of the stone gorilla I'd hidden behind, then Dad'd be leaning over the gorilla's shoulder, saying, "Do you think he eats stone bananas?"

It never failed — Dad would count, we would hide, then he'd show up out of nowhere to strike up a conversation. We never let him hide because we couldn't find him! We preferred to get mad at him for sneaking up on us and chase him until we couldn't breathe.

We'd tackle Dad, then tickle him. His laugh sounded so much like those little rubber drums that squeak when you shake them. He turned such a bright red, you'd think he'd been dropped into a vat of cherry Kool-Aid. He looked so funny we'd start laughing and fall over. We'd all end up in a giggling, gasping heap on the ground.

That night Samuel started the chase. He had found this great hiding place wedged between two stacks of huge concrete blocks. Hiding across from him beneath a giant mushroom, I saw Dad crawling over the top block.

He moved so quick and smooth, for a second I thought he could be one of those catlike superheroes (Catman or Pumar), moving through the night without a sound, pouncing on his victims. Then Dad slid down into the crack headfirst like a snake. His beat-up old train conductor's hat fell on Samuel's shoulder as Dad said, "Howdy. I'm looking for the ceramic squirrels. Seen any?"

"Dad!" Samuel screamed, reaching up to grab him. "I hate it when you do that!"

Dad pulled himself back up to the top of the pile, saying, "It's the object of the game, Samuel. Would you prefer that I cheated?"

Samuel came out of the bottom row of his hiding place just as Dad jumped to the ground. He lunged at Dad. "You do cheat!"

Dad jumped backward, laughing. "Do I?"

"I'll get you!" Samuel shouted, and the chase was on. Dad started to run, Samuel pursued him. I ran too.

Samuel chased Dad toward the open field beyond the uncarved headstones. I put on the steam to catch up. Joliet almost flattened me when she jumped down off a stack of concrete flower boxes. We collided and teetered, laughing as we got under way again. Dad had already reached the field. He was so tall, it was like he had seven-league boots! He could cover practically a quarter of an acre in a couple of strides.

Dad turned, then started to jog from left to right so we could catch up. Samuel dived at Dad's legs, hitting him in the knees. Dad crumbled to the ground. As usual, Joliet came to Dad's rescue and tackled Samuel. Those two laughed as I jumped in and went for Dad. He hadn't moved. He just lay there. He'd been known to play dead, but I felt this time was different (of course, I always did, and he got me every time).

I dropped down beside him, shouting, "Dad!" His eyes closed, his head turned to the side, he looked as if he'd fallen asleep.

"Cut it out, Dad." I shoved him.

The others had stopped goofing off. They stood over Dad, staring down at him as if his head had gone missing — all big eyed and openmouthed.

"Come on, Dad. Joke's up!" I pinched his cheek.

"Mom's coming!" Joliet screamed.

I turned. Mom ran at full bore, her fuchsia scarf floating along behind her. Seeing Mom made everybody panic. If she came running, Dad must be in trouble. Just then, Dad flew up in the air as if he'd been jolted with electricity.

Blinking, he realized he was surrounded and started to yell and tickle anyone within arm's reach. When Mom showed up, tickling fingers ready, and laughing, we all figured it was a joke and joined in the ticklefest.

I laughed so hard my ribs hurt on the way home. The whole night turned out to be one great Jones family adventure. I went to bed happy as a dragon with a cave full of treasure.

Text copyright © 2001 by Alexandria LaFaye

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2002

    A Spirited Read

    ¿Dad, in Spirit¿ is an overall good read. A. LaFaye does a great job combing humor, twists and turns, and tight family bonds into unique plot. In the book, Ebon finds himself to be ¿the normal one¿ in a rather unique family. Both his older sister and younger sister have special abilities that help them stand out, and his mother and father also stand out in the neighborhood. Ebon seemingly accepts his role as the helper, and takes pride in helping his father with his off-the-wall projects. One day, his father falls off of a ladder while working on his annual Halloween haunted house, causing him to slip into a coma. Ebon and his family find themselves battling this tragedy and continuing on their daily lives. As the days go on, Ebon finds himself hearing his father¿s voice helping him through tough situations, and eventually, Ebon actually thinks he sees his father roaming the house. Ebon then makes it his responsibility to find a way to wake up his father, before it becomes too late. I would recommend this book for students in grades 4-6. It¿s a little far-fetched, but it is definitely enjoyable to read. The descriptions in the book provide many opportunities for the reader to envision just exactly what is taking place or what the surroundings look like, but still leave enough out to allow them to create their own details. You¿ll find yourself reading through it pretty fast, so if you have an afternoon and want a book to relax with, pick up a copy of this book.

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