Benny Ramírez and the ­Nearly Departed

Knopf. Apr. 2024. 272p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593703700.
Gr 3-7–Benny is not talented—not like his sister, the dancer; or his brother, the actor; or his recently deceased abuelo, the famous musician Ignacio Ramirez. He is forced to reckon with this when he and his family move into his grandpa’s Miami mansion and Benny attends arts school. He discovers Abuelo is actually a ghost who has some unfinished business! Ignacio decides to help Benny become a star, so that the performer can go to the eternal party that is the afterlife. This debut title explores the complexities of family dynamics in a way that shows a love for the characters, including those who are not always the most sympathetic. Arguably the least relatable character, Ignacio, is the funniest to read about, with his wildly colorful outfits and his lack of self-awareness. As such, he may remind readers of their own weird relatives who are beloved. Though some of the humor falls flat, each emotional scene will riff on readers’ souls. Children who are going through the pain of barely-there parents or family will relate to Benny and Ignacio’s relationship. This pleasant title is best for young fantasy readers who like the paranormal, but do not want the scares.
VERDICT Benny’s story is a charming, not-scary ghost story with moments of joy, sadness, and wishing-you-were-there in Miami eating a delicious Cubano sandwich.

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