A Curious Tale of the In-Between - Lauren DeStefano
I know it's a bit early, but this is a pretty unique tale and one that I want to highlight before it shows up on shelves in just over a month!
Pram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.
Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.
I've read a few creepy middle grade novels over the last few years, each of which has left me feeling at least a tiny bit disconcerted by the time I was ready for sleepy time: Doll Bones (Holly Black), The Night Gardener (Jonathan Auxier), and The Elevator Ghost (Glen Huser). And now, A Curious Tale of the In-Between certainly left me feeling that middle grade fiction has come a long way in a short time, especially where mature themes and darker subject matter is concerned.
DeStefano's novel deals with death (in many forms, including suicide), ghosts, parental abandonment, etc. But while some may think these topics are too mature for a young readership, I believe that DeStefano has done a marvellous job of matching darkness with maturity and well-rounded characters. Pram is a conflicted individual with many obstacles in her path, but she has a strong support network to help her develop into a thoughtful young woman. Felix, the ghost at the pond, is complex and haunted (pun intended!)
While the characterization is strong, and the setting is gorgeously detailed, what I found troublesome was the pacing and the conclusion. The opening chapters take a while to detail Pram's relationship to her surroundings and her back story, but it takes a while to get to the climax, and the ending feels rushed (and somewhat confusing, going back and forth between the spirit world, the real world, and other people's past experiences.)
On the whole, the novel is engrossing, sinister at its core, and DeStefano certainly refuses to speak down to her younger readers. The main characters are fully realized and reflect higher maturity levels than many novels aimed at young audiences. The text does not shy away from highlighting the often sad and scary moments in life. Even through the slightly uneven plot and pacing, the characterization and creepiness factor make this a book worth reading. Check it!
(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out Sept. 1, 2015)