Image: A girl and a boy, both with light brown skin and dark brown hair, gaze at ghostly blue arms and stand in front of a circular yellow portal.

KidLit Book Review: A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander


Synopsis

Rosa Ramona Díaz has just moved to the small, un-haunted town of Ingot—the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t want to be there. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could possibly want to live in a place with no ghosts. Frankly, she doesn’t understand why anyone would.

Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot. His father plays a knight at the local Renaissance Festival, and his mother plays the queen. Jasper has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Then an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down.

Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed, and Rosa will need all her ghost appeasement tools—and a little help from Jasper—to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.


Details

  • Title: A Properly Unhaunted Place
  • Series: A Properly Unhaunted Place, Book 1
  • Author: William Alexander
  • Illustrator: Kelly Murphy
  • Cover Artists: Kelly Murphy, illustration; Sonia Chaghatzbanian and Irene Metaxatos, design
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderderry Books
  • ISBN: 1481469150
  • Publication Date: August 22, 2017
  • For Ages: 8-12
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.

Review

Banishment doesn’t work. Matter — and memory — cannot be destroyed. You can’t escape the past, and you can’t sterilize the present. The world is supposed to be full of life, full of stories; it’s supposed to be complicated. This is the message of the gloriously spooky A Properly Unhaunted Place, a unique book rich in exquisitely crafted metaphors that values respect above all else: respect for children, for marginalized people, for the power of the supernatural, for history, and for knowledge.

(I am very reluctant to divulge anything about the plot, because I think you just need to experience this book for yourself. I have to say this, though, so everything within these parentheses contains a SPOILER WARNING. Though the book isn’t overtly political, it’s hard to ignore the real-world parallels to the book’s villain, a self-aggrandizing man with a very familiar name who wants to build a wall to hold back history and isolate people, both geographically and intellectually. Author William Alexander is the son of a Latinx immigrant, and while his story works on many levels, one of the most striking is as an indictment of anti-immigrant rhetoric.)

I have struggled mightily with this review. There is so much to praise about A Properly Unhaunted Place, but the best way for me to convey its wonders is just to put a copy in your hands and back away while you read. For the heroine Rosa, hauntings are a comfort…they are a sign that things are as they should be. Well, the existence of this marvelous book is a comfort to me. It is frightening and thought-provoking and incisive and funny and everything that I love about children’s horror literature. It is a properly haunted, and haunting, novel that should be in every library.


Rating

I don’t know what to do first, re-read this book or read its sequel A Festival of Ghosts. I give this book 5 out of 5 coffins.

5 Coffins


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