by Jenny Goebel
Scholastic Press, ISBN-10 0545519306, $16.99 hardcover, October 2013
Thirteen-year-old Bernie’s summer is looking pretty grim. It’s hard to make friends when your family runs a monument company, and your backyard is littered with tombstones. It’s even harder when your mother suddenly refuses to leave her room. To make matters worse, her father has just hired a new artist to engrave the headstones–the creepy Mr. Stein. Bernie has a bad feeling about him right from the start, and after snooping around his cottage, she discovers an engraved portrait of their neighbor, a woman who promptly dies the next day. And it’s not just a weird coincidence. The pattern continues, and Bernie realizes that Mr. Stein has begun engraving headstones before people die, which forces Bernie to ask a horrifying question: Is Mr. Stein predicting the deaths . . . or causing them?
For me, it’s hard to turn down a mystery with such a creepy-cute cover. As it turns out, the story isn’t only mystery but also light horror. Even better!
While the premise sounds like a standard kiddie mystery, the story actually delivers a lot of substance. Bernie’s a scrappy, stalwart heroine who’s all too aware that she could stand to work on her temper and her manners. When her little brother died, Bernie’s mother sank into a deep depression and never leaves her room now. Bernie fears that her flaws keep her mother from loving her enough to break out of her depression. Heavy stuff, folks, and it makes a great framework for a rather Gothic mystery. Bernie also learns the power of friendship through a relationship with Michael, a somewhat socially awkward neighbor boy.
Mostly, though, you’ll find fun and mild chills in this quick read. Most of the action is set at a monument company or a graveyard, and the villain is indeed a soul-sucking psychopath. Bernie’s one of the best heroines I’ve seen this year, and her pluck and wit save the day, with a little help from her friends and family. Hand this spooky story out next Halloween to the 8-12-year-old crowd if you missed it this year.
Recommend to: Goosebumps fans, readers who like bloodless scares
To buy or not to buy: Definitely buy!