From the Publisher
“A fast-paced story that mixes scares and history for some can’t-put-it-down fun.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A spooky last-minute plot twist, a bittersweet climax, and a humorous conclusion helps make this an unusually rich and thoughtful supernatural tale.”—The Bulletin
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ted's big problem is not his annoying brother Zach, his social studies report on Luxembourg or his stuck-up cousin Jackie. He has ghosts in his house. His five-year-old sister, Vicki, is the first to see them; she starts keeping a hammer under her pillow for protection. Then, 11-year-old Ted dreams of mud, drowning and cobwebby fingers touching his face. Naturally, their parents don't believe these ghostly accounts of undead residents, so the children are on their own to do the supernatural sleuthing. The ghosts soon progress to the usual haunting activities of slamming doors, stealing keys and tipping over school projects. They appear on cable TV and even show up in a museum elevator. But why? Only when Ted unravels a mystery involving the Underground Railroad and reveals the ghosts' identities can peace be restored. Vande Velde's (Tales From the Brothers Grimm and Sisters Weird) dialogue has a natural cadence and the plot unfolds at a brisk pace. And the African-American ghosts provide an intriguing counterpoint to a thoroughly modern houseful of children, who learn a history lesson strong enough to chill their bones. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Eleven-year-old Ted has overworked parents, a snotty teenage brother, a school project on Luxembourg due, and a kid sister suddenly haunted by ghosts. When the mother and daughter ghost team moves on to his own dreams, Ted decides someone has to solve the mystery before things get out of hand. How they do get out of hand involves research into the Underground Railroad and a sly commentary on political correctness. Vande Velde continues her dialogue with things supernatural (Never Trust a Dead Man) in her usual light, humorous style. Ghosts aside, Ted's struggles to complete his Luxembourg display in time for the school fair is so wryly funny that's it's probably worth the price of admission.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Vande Velde continues her string of historical ghost stories, this time focusing on the Underground Railroad. The first-person narrator, 11-year-old Ted, is certain that his house in Rochester, NY, can't be haunted because it has been in his family for generations and there have been no secrets to speak of in its past. Then his five-year-old sister Vicki's imaginary friend Marella and the "bad lady" who seems to be chasing her prove themselves to be all too real. Ted decides to get to the bottom of the mystery and finds a journal belonging to one of his ancestors. It recounts the tragic story of two runaway slaves, a mother and her five-year-old daughter, who drowned in the Erie Canal, which used to run through the family's backyard. The story culminates in Ted and Vicki being possessed by the spirits in order to help them move on. The secondary characters include busy parents barely present; a typical teenage brother; and a trendy, smart-talking cousin. However, the plot has original twists and the journal passages are nicely integrated into a story with some genuine chills. The penultimate chapter unnecessarily switches to present tense when Adah, the mother's spirit, possesses Ted. Nonetheless, there is sufficient humor, action, and scariness to keep readers engaged. A good choice for fans of Bruce Coville's "Nina Tanleven" series (Bantam).-Timothy Capehart, Leominster Public Library, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Vande Velde (Never Trust a Dead Man, p. 458, etc.) combines a ghost story with slave history for a comic middle-grade novel. Fifth-grader Ted has an obnoxious teenage brother, Zach, and a cute five-year-old sister, Vicki, who seems to attract ghosts. Her announcement that she has a new invisible friend, Marella, is followed by another pronouncement, that Vicki is afraid of a "bad lady" who is also invisible, but who comes through the walls. Ted has a series of vivid nightmares about corpses trying to drown him; when his school project on Luxembourg is wrecked by apparently unseen hands, he's convinced the house is haunted and begins digging for clues. Ted learns his house once sheltered runaway slaves, and identifies the ghosts as mother and child fugitives who drowned in an old section of the canal behind the house. A description of the real-life mother in an old diary indicates that she was a good personhas she turned nasty in the afterlife? In a surprising twist, it is Marella who must fulfill her sinister purpose and possess Vicki. Ted, a witty narrator on the subject of the typical sibling behavior that is spiked into the plot, must submit to possession himself, in a fast-paced story that mixes scares and history for some can't-put-it-down fun. (Fiction. 8-12)