Stonewords. Wow! This book was creepy with a capital "C"!!!! The back of this book (Book Club Edition published in 1992 by Scholastic) says "RL5" or "Reading Level, 5th Grade." There were definitely parts of this book that were very graphic (rotting flesh and the like) that I'm not sure I would expose a ten-year-old to. The campy illustration on the outside and the larger size of the book scream "middle grade" (not sure why middle grade books are wider than regular books. Wider for smaller hands?) but the content and themes are more reminiscent of R.L. Stine's Fear Street series.
The story begins with Zoe retelling the story of how she was abandoned by her mother at age four. Wow! Way to hit the reader in the face with something heavy right at the beginning! Now, as an adult and a mother, my initial reaction was deep, deep sadness and empathy for the character. I wonder how a ten year old would take it? If he/she came from a similar background, this might be comforting and relatable. They might take it as, "Ah! Here's a girl like me! I was abandoned, too." Or, for a kid who's had both parents in his/her life, this might add another layer of scariness. Because what could be more frightening to a child than losing a parent he/she loves? I think it's interesting how Conrad used the character of the mother in this book. To fully understand it, I think I would need to re-read the book. And I'm not going to, because it's JUST THAT CREEPY (of course, this is a good thing for those of you who LOVE this genre, but I don't!)
Over the course of the novel, Zoe meets a ghost with her same name who lived in her house 200 years ago. They can travel to each other's world's using a staircase and...that's all I'm telling you, because you need to experience the creepy goodness for yourself! No, no, I don't get any renumeration from Scholastic, HarperCollins, or the Estate of Pam Conrad (I wish I did!) but I still recommend this book for the scary factor (if you're into that), crazy story (Remember? Middle grade readers still believe in the impossible!) and the poetry. Yes, the poetry! Here's the opening paragraph of Chapter Five:
Honeysuckle has been known to bloom in the snow. It has its own internal time schedule that has nothing to do with wind, weather, or season. It's as if honeysuckle were always daydreaming, coming out of deep thought to say something so off and disconnected that everyone around is confused and thrown off-balance. My mother was like this.
Bottom line: if your ten or eleven year old is used to blood and guts, this book might be okay. The beautiful language and heavy themes do make it a book worth picking up, but I think an older child, 12, or 13, would get more out of it.
Special thanks to Mikki R., for digging this out of her ancient middle grade fiction collection for me to read!