The Ghoul of Windydown Vale

Feiwel & Friends. Jan. 2022. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250236579.
Gr 4-6– In this offbeat and immersive gothic mystery set in the past, the people of Windydown Vale, an isolated former gold mining town surrounded by quicksand swamps, are hiding horrific secrets. Copper Inskeep, 14, an earnest, naive teen, can’t help but try to save teenage stranger Annabelle, who bursts into the Vale on a runaway horse. After Copper rescues her from nearly drowning in the deadly mud, Annabelle claims the local Ghoul attacked her and her daddy—and now her daddy’s missing. She begs Copper to go look for him. Readers are in on the secret that the Ghoul couldn’t have done it because Copper, the story’s narrator, admits he’s the Ghoul who dresses up and scares people away from the town’s dangerous swamps (adding, “I haven’t hunted in days”). Soon after, a giant of a man drives his huge wagon into Vale and announces he’s a monster hunter, and for a fee, he’ll kill the Ghoul and find Annabelle’s daddy. But he needs Copper’s help. When they find mutilated animal carcasses, Copper wonders, is there another Ghoul? Chapters are short with cliffhanger endings, and the story has an old-fashioned feel, as Copper uses quaint words like nakifying and rollyskims. Characters are cued as white. They are all memorable, particularly Copper’s identical triplet cousins and the three mayors.
VERDICT This Cormac McCarthy–like tale (but less bleak) for middle grade readers has a vivid sense of place, an unusual mystery with genuine scares, and a satisfying, if bittersweet, ending that will appeal to readers looking for something a little different.

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