Samuel West just wants to go back to when his Pa was alive and spinning wild tales. But Pa, the only parent Sam ever knew, died recently in a car accident. Now, Sam is dragged from Bayou St. George, La., by his paternal Aunt Jo, who’s “stayed away... the past four Thanksgivings,” to her home in Holler, Okla. Isolating himself, Sam is buried in “thoughts... like spiders that hid away in cracks anytime you tried to swat them.” But when he finds a hollowed-out tree and “a cat with half a face” who leads him inside, he discovers a doorway to an alternate Bayou St. George where he’s reunited with Pa. Ejected back into Holler and only able to visit his father at certain times each day, Sam befriends Edie, a fellow seventh grader with an absent father, and learns more about his Aunt Jo, a veteran and an amputee who organizes Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Soon, Sam must choose between the two worlds before he becomes trapped. Ventrella (Hello, Future Me) brilliantly renders Sam’s gentle nature, defensiveness, and deep sadness; her evocative prose and the small but resonant cast shine, and Sam’s voice effectively relays his path toward the other side of grief. Ages 8–12. Agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Sept.)
Skeleton Tree is a powerful and tender story. Kim Ventrella knows when to be playful and when to break your heart.
A grieving boy is given a way to see his dead father again.
After Pa dies in a car accident, seventh grader Sam is taken away from Bayou St. George, Louisiana, by Aunt Jo—now a virtual stranger whom he hasn’t seen in four years—to middle-of-nowhere Holler, Oklahoma. In Holler, he starts seeing an ugly, scarred gray cat, who leads him through the hollow of an eerie tree that transports him to a dreamy version of Bayou St. George. There, the cat turns into the Boy, a guide of sorts, and Sam’s reunited with his father and the Colonel, an alligator that’s a Bayou St. George legend. Too soon, Sam’s sucked back through the portal—but it will open again, the Boy tells him, same time each day, though not indefinitely. Sam’s pulled between the visits with his father (sometimes witnessing Pa’s memories and trying to bring his father back with him), the budding connections he builds with Aunt Jo as he gains a new understanding for who she is as a person (a veteran amputee and Narcotics Anonymous leader), and the first kid to befriend him, kindred spirit Edie. The magic’s rooted in evocative descriptions and strong emotions, perfectly suited to interplaying themes of truth and stories, just as Sam’s grief-and-letting-go storyline echoes both Jo’s and Edie’s grounded-in-reality subplots. Lacking racial descriptors, characters default to White.
Magically mesmerizing and moving. (Fantasy. 9-13)
"Ventrella brilliantly renders Sam’s gentle nature, defensiveness, and deep sadness; her evocative prose and the small but resonant cast shine, and Sam’s voice effectively relays his path toward the other side of grief." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The heartrending story and vividly described settings will captivate readers." — Horn Book Magazine
Praise for Kim Ventrella: “Set in the rural South, the syrup-soaked, rich imagery is a sensory delight. Gabe’s voice is distinct, and the evolution of his conflict reinforces the humanity amid the magic. A heck of a good read about the bright side of some durn bad luck.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Skeleton Tree is a powerful and tender story. Kim Ventrella knows when to be playful and when to break your heart.” — Cassie Beasley, New York Times bestselling author of Circus Mirandus
“Ventrella’s comforting storytelling reveals a magical world where a skeleton can grow and where a family’s love for each other can provide healing.” — School Library Journal
“Ventrella fearlessly tackles the sensitive subject of death for a middle grade audience.” — Booklist
“[An] emotional roller coaster tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable protagonist.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Quietly powerful; dark yet whimsical.” — Booklist
"The magic is rooted in evocative descriptions and strong emotions. Magically mesmerizing and moving." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Quietly powerful; dark yet whimsical.
"The heartrending story and vividly described settings will captivate readers."
Ventrella fearlessly tackles the sensitive subject of death for a middle grade audience.