Reviewed by Caroline Hodges (@musingdragon)
Pages - 208
Published by Corgi Books in September 2012
It was after midnight and Mike Kowlaski was driving fast – too fast – down County Line Road. He glanced at the dashboard clock and groaned.
He was late.
His phone rang. It didn’t take ESP to know it was his mother. “She probably wants to get a jump start on her griping,” Mike muttered to himself. Earlier that evening, she’d told him to be in by midnight “or else.”
Mike didn’t even want to think about what “or else” meant.
Ignoring the call, he mashed down the accelerator. Maybe if he was only a little late...
That was when the girl appeared in his headlights.
Set in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, each story takes place during a different time period from the 1860's to the present, and ends with the narrator's death. Some teens die heroically, others ironically, but all due to supernatural causes. Readers will meet walking corpses and witness demonic posession, all against the backdrop of Chicago's rich history—the Great Depression, the World's Fair, Al Capone and his fellow gangsters.
My younger sister and I were pretty fascinated with the macabre growing up. All I could think about was how much we would have loved this collection of short stories by Candace Fleming back then. Sadly, as an older reader, the stories didn’t really creep me out, but, I can certainly remember a time when they genuinely would have had me sleep with the light on after putting down my book for the night. And this ultimately, is the age group the book is aimed at; teen readers who like a good scary story.
Mike is on his way home when he has a ghostly encounter with a long dead girl. The night twists and turns until he finds himself at the graveside of the girl. There he meets a variety of child ghosts, all wanting to share their stories, and so the novel is split into these stories but held together with Mike’s storyline.
I think what I enjoyed most was the varying age of those in the graveyard; it meant that each story was set in a different time period of Chicago history and so the events and manner in which each ghost tells their story is reflective of that. We visit the famous Chicago World Fair with Evelyn and her twin sister, experience a deadly act of revenge for the gangster-accented Johnnie, and of course, there’s a visit to an abandoned insane asylum. Believe it or not, there’s even a clever story involving an old flame of Al Capone’s.
The stories are each unique and believable with the exception of one which borrows, as if to cover all bases, heavily from the sci-fi genre. But actually, ultimately this story just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the collection. Whereas the others touch on real history which adds to their credibility, this one story just wasn’t believable in the way the others were. And I tend to think if a scary story can seem believable, it adds that extra element of fear!
My favourite tale was Edgar’s; a boy born with a strange ability which he cannot control and is shunned for it, inevitably leading to tragedy. The terror in this is subtle, not the outright “things that go bump in the night” horror, but the fear of oneself.
It’s a small book at just over 200 pages, but I found it and the stories within it the perfect length. Short and scary; perfect for camp-fire re-telling, or reading to younger siblings.