Riley’s Ghost

HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Jan. 2022. 368p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062985972.
Gr 5 Up–“Sadists. Barbarians. Seventh graders.” Riley Flynn (who appears white) is locked inside her middle school after the last bell rings along with a possessed lab frog, the malevolent ghost of a former student, and memories of classmates who tease her mercilessly. As Riley tries to break out, her thoughts drift to daily life. She fights back against the bullies, but that’s done more to cement her reputation as a misanthrope than it’s done to slow the jeers. After school she comes home to lonely TV dinners while her parents work long shifts, and sometimes she lays in bed imagining what it feels like to die. Though she doesn’t see it at first, Riley’s parents show love, support, teach responsibility, encourage grit, and see her for who she truly is. As she uncovers who the ghost is and what it wants from her, what she learns shifts her perspective on her own life and helps her glimpse a future that might be better. Riley’s feelings of fear, anger, sadness, frustration and hopelessness will resonate with early teen readers who are feeling high levels of stress, or who feel like outsiders. Like Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, this book has a quiet pace and centers on the importance of friendship, the transformative power of being seen, and the gentle miracles they create when combined. It’s also filled with the messiness of personal growth, the pain of adolescent friendships, a nuanced portrayal of being bullied/being the bully, and a sensitive look at adolescent mental health.
VERDICT Lots of humor, a little horror, and a dash of the bizarre round things out. Highly recommended.

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