Seventh grader Ben Conover sees people no one else can see. When he confides in his best friend, it's not long before smart phones start lighting up with text messages as the air cackles with gossip and he becomes known in school as the 'Ghost Boy'. Home has become a battle ground between his Mum's acceptance and his Dad's disapproval. Ben desperately seeks his father's approval, and wants to be like a regular twelve-year-old. But he doesn't want to break free from his spirit friend, Abby, who shows up when he is in danger or about to do something wrong. She somehow guides him and he has grown very fond of her. Will Ben's father accept his son's psychic gifts? Can he persuade his father that spirits are real and not just hallucinations? And who exactly is Abby? A Middle Grade story about a boy who sees spirits.
|Publisher:||Our Street Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.49(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.39(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Stafford Betty is an author of fiction and non-fiction. Professor of religion at California State University in Bakersfield, CA, Stafford earned his PhD in theology from Fordham University, and is a world expert on afterlife and paranormal studies.
Read an Excerpt
The Miller twins, Paige and Penelope, were giving a 1950s birthday party. Ben Conover, like the twins, turned twelve on the same day. But unlike them, he kept it to himself. He was used to keeping secrets.
Mrs. Miller, the twins' grandmother and hostess, was the inspiration behind this strange party. She said she wanted "the kids" to understand what life was like when she was their age. She made them check their phones at the door and line up to play Musical Chairs.
"Oh my God, what is she thinking?" the kids whispered.
In desperation she gave up. "All I ask," she said, "is that you all stay together, boys and girls, and play together whatever you choose. None of this breaking up into groups and cliques!"
For a while they couldn't make up their minds, but when Sung Lee suggested Spin the Bottle, everybody was so amazed they were stunned into agreement.
"You've played Spin the Bottle, Sung?" Tyler Slocumb asked in disbelief.
He had. Sung asked everyone to sit or kneel on the thick Persian carpet in a great circle under the atrium, girls and boys alternating. Then he asked for a bottle, and Mrs. Miller produced a Coke bottle from a collection her husband had. It was an ancient green thing with the name of the city where it was manufactured, "Boston," embossed on the bottom.
"No genie would camp out in that bottle," joked Nick Fitzhugh, who was famous for making squeaky noises in math class by inserting his finger into his mouth and blowing out.
Half of the kids were familiar with the game, but Ben and some of the others had never played it. After Sung explained it, the Duffer said, "I'm not gonna do that!" And Caleb said, "Lemme outa here!" But secretly they were up for it.
"You mean I have to kiss Brad!" said Tyler.
Mrs. Miller suddenly stepped in and set up the rules.
"No, no, Tyler. I played this game when I was a girl. If the bottle points at another boy, you spin again. Unless you'd like to kiss him!"
"Uh — no thanks!"
Everybody laughed, and trendy Melissa Braywith, who sometimes claimed she was neither male nor female, but "transgender," whispered to Tyler sitting next to her, "Maybe she's cooler than we thought."
"Suppose you don't want to kiss the girl!" said Jared, Ben's best friend.
"You have to," Mrs. Miller said. "You chose the game, and you have to play by the rules."
"How long do you have to kiss her?"
"Just a smack, that's all you're allowed. I'll be watching!"
"How long can she kiss me?"
"Nobody'd want to kiss you, geek breath!" Brianna Alvarez broke in.
"All right!" said Mrs. Miller. "Somebody has to go first."
The boys hooted as they pointed fingers at friends. The girls sat quietly or giggled. Their faces telegraphed a full range of emotions, from nervous enthusiasm to disgust.
Ben watched with interest as the game unfolded. He was ashamed to admit it, but he had never kissed a girl except his big sister, and he wondered what it would feel like.
Round and round the bottle spun. Vwizzzzzh. Then it stopped, and boy kissed girl and girl kissed boy. When Neeru Patel spun the bottle, it pointed at Ben. She got up, knelt in front of him and studied his face for a second. Then she snapped her face forward and kissed him on the mouth. Man, there were some serious catcalls and yowls. "Wooooo! Wooooooo!" Ben's face lit up the room.
Now it was Ben's turn to spin the bottle. Who knew what each girl was feeling? He thought of the way he looked in the mirror at home: curving high forehead, square jaw, glowing dark eyes, skin a little darker than he'd like. Was he good looking? He had his doubts. He thought of his reputation at school: a little weird but a good athlete, and he could draw with a great likeness. He was respected, but only because he kept his great secret tightly bottled up. Anyway, one of the girls was about to get kissed by him. Would she like it? Would she dread it? He had no idea. He spun the bottle.
The bottle settled and pointed straight at Jared.
Ben got up and made a rush for him. Jared rolled into a ball on the floor and yelled, "No way, dude! Freak! Freak!"
As the laughter died down, Ben spun the bottle again. It pointed at Penelope. He gently kissed the birthday girl on her delicate, freckled cheek.
The game went along smoothly until Tyler spun the bottle and it pointed to a girl Ben didn't know.
"Oh, Pam, lucky you!" said Mrs. Miller. She then spoke to all the kids. "Maybe some of you didn't meet the twins' cousin, Pam Grady." She turned back to Pam. "Pam, this is Tyler. I'm told he's a great athlete."
Pam had small squinty eyes, chubby cheeks, and a weak chin. Some would say she was homely, not a proper match for a star football player. At least Tyler didn't think so.
"Uh, I think I'm gonna pass, Mrs. Miller."
"Now, Tyler, don't be bashful. Rules are rules."
"Uh, I'm not bashful!" he said forcefully, making his meaning very clear.
Dead silence for five seconds. No one said a word, no one dared breathe, not even the perky Mrs. Miller. Her 74-year-old face under silvery hair turned beet-red.
Ben watched it all, and saw the poor girl's lip quiver, her head pointed down at the floor. He hated what Tyler was doing, hated it, hated it! And he wondered — no, he couldn't do it. Then he saw something — a girl standing outside the circle next to the door. He recognized her, he had seen her many times before, he felt like he had known her forever but didn't know from where. He looked around just to make sure no one else saw her. Of course they didn't. They never did. He looked back. She was just staring at him. It was as if time had stopped. Now is your chance, he heard her say, but not out loud, not even in words. Then she faded away.
"Mrs. Miller, can I take Tyler's place?" he said in a trembling voice.
"Oh, Ben, oh, Ben, would you? Would you!?" Turning to Pam, she said, "Pam, Ben seems to have taken a shine to you."
There were a few chuckles and nudgings, but no one said a word as Ben, paralyzed with embarrassment, got up and walked across the circle toward Pam. When he stooped down and she looked up, her eyes were swimming with tears. He pecked her on the cheek, which was hot and wet. It was doubtful she even saw who it was.CHAPTER 2
THE BASEBALL GAME
It was the last inning of the big game. The Padres were playing the Rockies — the best, the baddest, the cockiest team in all of California. The Padres were behind 4–3, it was two outs, and Justin, slow as a tractor, was on second base. It was Ben's turn to hit, their last hope. The Rockies' pitcher was a tall, gangly kid with a great fastball and a streak of wildness to go with the purple streak in his hair. Opposing teams called him "the Octopus" because of his weird, herky-jerky windup. Ben forgot about everything except surviving as he stepped into the batter's box. Just get the bat on the ball.
All around him voices cried out. He heard his dad, the Padres' coach —"Get on base, any way you can!" He heard the other coach's shrill two-fingered whistle, wheeeeeuuu!, the Rockies' all-purpose wake-up call. He heard a wall of sound coming out of his own dugout: "You can do it, Ben!" Hands clapped, throats roared encouragement. Someone banged on the dugout roof, and an angry fan yelled at the umpire. Ben even heard his mother shout his name from the bleachers.
Ben sucked in a breath and tried to calm himself. He took a practice swing, another, a third, dug in his left toe, went into his crouch, wiggled his butt, then settled in and stared at the pitcher. His heart beat with hope and fear as he readied his hands to explode forward with the bat. He waited. Finally the Octopus went into his windup, arms and legs flying outward. Faster than a boy can think, the ball sped toward him. He swung the bat, felt the ball knick the underside, glimpsed the ball trickling toward third base and the third baseman rushing in. Then he took off toward first, never looking back. Whop, whack! The ball and his foot arrived a split second apart, the foot first. He was safe by a whisker; he had gotten a hit off the Octopus, and Justin had waddled ahead to third base. He felt a thrill ripple through him as the crowd roared.
Now it was Noah's turn at bat, and everybody focused on Noah. Ben watched his dad standing next to third base. There it was — the steal sign. Dad, what are you doing?! Ben crouched down with hands out and fingers fluttering, then sprang. Like a torpedo homing in on its target, he zoomed toward second base. He slid headfirst in a cloud of red dust and felt the shortstop's glove spank down on his arm too late. "Safe!" shouted the umpire, and the crowd roared some more. Justin was still on third base. The Padres were still losing 4–3.
Ben got up and dusted himself off.
"Come on, Noah, hit the ball!" he yelled. But what he really thought was that Noah would strike out. He was no match for the Octopus.
Three pitches later, Noah was down to his last strike.
Like air hissing out of a punctured tire, the Padres and their fans watched without hope as the Octopus went into his windup and fired. Then something totally unexpected happened. To everyone's surprise, Noah actually hit the ball. It was a weak grounder bouncing straight to the shortstop, a routine play to end the game. Running at the crack of the bat, Ben slowed down just enough to beat the ball as he ran in front of the shortstop trying to distract him. Then he heard the crowd of moms, dads, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and cousins start yelling, really yelling. He knew his distraction had worked. The shortstop was bobbling the ball.
As Justin chugged home to tie the game and Ben dashed toward third base, he saw his dad's hands stretched straight up in a full stop posture. But right behind his dad was — what was this? — Uncle Dan, Ben's favorite uncle, dead three years, frantically swinging his arm round and round like a giant windmill and looking toward home.
Ben was amazed but didn't hesitate. He dug his cleats into the dirt and rounded third base as if his dad wasn't even there. He zeroed in on home plate and in the midst of all the noise heard his dad screaming, "Stop! What are you doing!" It looked like suicide to everybody. The catcher had the ball in his mitt and squatted down in front of the plate, just waiting. Like a guided missile Ben slid hard into him, body crashing against body.
"Safe!" yelled the umpire, and the whole place went wild. Ben was dazed and lying in the dust. He watched the catcher pick up the ball, jarred loose by the slide. Then all the boys on his team rushed over toward him with arms raised in triumph and faces wild with victory. They dog-piled him and shouted, "Ben! Ben! Ben! Way to go, Ben! We won, we won!" That's all Ben could make out through the roar. You might have thought the Dodgers had won the pennant.
That night Ben couldn't sleep. Over and over he replayed the last inning in his mind: the thrill of getting on base, stealing second, distracting the shortstop, sliding home for the winning run. There was no question about it: he'd won the game with his daring and his speed. And — and Uncle Dan.
He got up and knocked on his parents' bedroom door. It was hard enough keeping the girl secret, but Uncle Dan? He had to dare it. He hoped his dad would be in a listening mood.
"You should be in bed," said his mother, looking up from her book.
"I know. But I keep thinking about the game."
His father looked up from his book with a scowl, and Ben almost turned around and went back to bed. But he had to get it out. Too many years had passed. He sat down on the end of the big bed with its green and yellow patchwork quilt, made by his mother. He wiggled between his mom's feet.
Sam Conover, a building contractor, was grayish and beginning to bald. He had a short-cropped, neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. He had a youthful, slim body that suggested the self-discipline of an ex-Marine. He looked at his son and felt a mixture of pride and irritation.
Maria Conover was bilingual; she gave piano lessons in their home and did translation work on the side; she had silky black hair with wisps of white at the temples. She had handsome features, tight skin, and clear brown eyes that disguised the anxiety she felt about her son. She adored him more than husband and God put together, and she understood him like nobody else could. At least she thought so. She put her book down on her stomach. A faint smile settled over her face as she studied him with the usual pleasure.
His father was still scowling, but Ben gained confidence anyway. "You know what, Dad?" Sam looked up and waited.
"When I was rounding third base, I knew, I knew I was going to score."
"You were lucky! It was stupid, suicidal. Don't ever run through my sign again. Do you understand?"
Sam paused, then said, "What do you mean, you knew?"
"I knew. I just knew. I — I saw Uncle — Uncle — Uncle Dan waving me home."
"What on earth are you talking about? My brother died three years ago." Sam gave his son a look that could freeze a vampire.
Ben shrank back but managed to say in a faint voice, "Dad, there's no way I could've been out."
Sam glared at him with something like fear in his face. Then he asked solemnly, as if he were talking in church, "What are you talking about, Ben?" "I saw your sign and was about to stop, but Uncle Dan was waving me on like he knew something. I knew I was going to score."
Maria suddenly sat up. "Are you saying you saw Uncle Dan in a vision?"
"Vision?" said Sam.
"No. I mean, yeah. I mean, you know —"
Sam and Maria glanced at each other, and Sam's glance told her he had no idea what to say next. He lifted up his hands and grimaced as if he were witnessing a conversation between two lunatics.
"Are you saying, Son, that you saw Uncle Dan's ghost?" said his mom.
"Yeaah, I uh, you know, I guess you'd call it that. And I have a friend who visits me —"
"Oh for God's sake!" Sam broke back in and picked up his book in disgust.
"A dead friend?" said Maria, trying to stay composed.
"Yeah. But I don't know who she is."
"Dead. You mean she's a spirit — like Uncle Dan."
"And do you talk to this ... girl?"
"Uh, yeah. Not much. You know, not much at all. Sometimes. And she, uh, talks to me."
Sam looked up from his book and said, "Don't encourage this, Dear."
Maria couldn't let the conversation drop. She had grown up in Guanahuato, Mexico. El Día de los Muertos, "The Day of the Dead," was in her blood. Every year just after Halloween she turned the extra bedroom into a shrine to her dead ancestors. She lit candles, brought in flowers, and put up old photos. She cooked a traditional meal and served the ghosts on plates spread all over the floor. You could hear her talking to them through the door. After they had taken their fill, she spooned the food back into the pot and fed the family with the "leftovers."
"Darling," she whispered, "I believe in spirits, you know that, but I don't see them. Are you sure you didn't imagine your Uncle Dan?"
Ben thought carefully. "No, Mom, I didn't. Unless I'm crazy."
Sam looked at Maria, then back at Ben, just to make sure they were listening. Then he delivered the official verdict: "He's a 12-year-old boy as normal as a tomcat. Let's stop talking this nonsense!"
Ben jumped up and bounded out of the room without another word.CHAPTER 3
The day had been hot, easily a hundred degrees, and it still hadn't cooled off much even though the sun was only an hour from setting. Bakersfield was baking.
Ben had just finished eating dinner with his mom and dad and older sister, Sarah, who was 16. He walked at a fast clip, eager to get to Jared's, whose house was on the other side of the park. He always cut across the park when going to Jared's, but this time he noticed some bigger boys hanging around the flagpole.
Ben wondered if he should make a detour, perhaps stay on the street and go around the corner. No, they wouldn't bother him. He decided to go the usual way.
Ben noticed as he got within twenty yards of them that they saw him and were nudging and grinning at each other. Then they — four altogether — started laughing. Ben felt his heart flutter, and he wondered if he shouldn't change directions. Or maybe just take off running. He was the fastest runner in his school; he could outrun anybody if he had to. But for some reason he just kept going. He would pass by them on their right, just far enough to show them respect. He would not look up, hurry his pace, or in any way show the fear he felt.
"Hey, kid, did you vote today?" said the tallest of the boys. He wore a black sleeveless tee shirt over his wiry six-foot frame. He looked like the kind of boy who would step on ants for the fun of it.
Ben slowed his pace and kept looking straight ahead.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ghost Boy"
Copyright © 2017 Stafford Betty.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ghost Boy is an enlightening book about 12 year old Ben Conover and his adventures and misadventures at home and in school. Ben has a sixth sense advantage, in that he can see ghosts of relatives passed, but this is not a talent he spreads around much. He is also usually the first to go to the aid of ostracized or embarrassed fellow students. When he finally does admit to the ghost thing as well, he becomes the butt of everyone's jokes and finds the threat of Military School in his future from his pragmatic father. But sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. I received a free electronic copy of this middle school novel from Netgalley, Betty Stafford, and Our Street Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.