Middle Grade Review: Riley's Ghost (John David Anderson)


About This Book:

Riley Flynn is alone.

It feels like she’s been on her own since sixth grade, when her best friend, Emily, ditched her for the cool girls. Girls who don’t like Riley. Girls who decide one day to lock her in the science closet after hours, after everyone else has gone home.

When Riley is finally able to escape, however, she finds that her horror story is only just beginning. All the school doors are locked, the windows won’t budge, the phones are dead, and the lights aren't working. Through halls lit only by the narrow beam of her flashlight, Riley roams the building, seeking a way out, an answer, an explanation. And as she does, she starts to suspect she isn’t alone after all.

While she’s always liked a good scary story, Riley knows there is no such thing as ghosts. But what else could explain the things happening in the school, the haunting force that seems to lurk in every shadow, around every corner? As she tries to find answers, she starts reliving moments that brought her to this night. Moments from her own life...and a life that is not her own.


*Review Contributed by Mark Buxton, Staff Reviewer*

A horror-filled nightmare of revenge.
What worked:
Riley feels isolated, and the early chapters effectively paint a picture of the difficulties she faces. She has no friends at school, and her parents’ jobs cause her to fend for herself at home. Her temper creates social conflicts, as her responses to problems are often the result of angry impulses. As her counselor says, Riley’s feelings are normal but the way she expresses them are not acceptable.

The author wonderfully creates an eerie experience for Riley and readers, as ghosts take over the story. The school setting is familiar to all middle-grade readers, so easy connections are made with Riley and her situation. Goosebumps are the result of strange sounds and fuzzy sights in darkened rooms and hallways. All of Riley’s efforts to escape the school are stymied, and the feeling of being trapped and stalked by something unknown is terrifying.
Alternating chapters contrast events from Riley’s life with her experiences in dealing with the ghosts. Her father enjoys telling ghost stories at bedtime, and Riley enjoys hearing them. He even explained the difference between ghost and horror stories, and it’s unclear which one she’s currently experiencing. Does the school ghost have unresolved issues, or is it more about creating violence and terror? As more of Riley’s past memories are shared, it’s clear she has some of the same issues as the ghost in the gym. Not being accepted by other students is their most common ground, although Riley tends to fight back when she feels wronged. It seems the ghost’s time to fight back is now.

What didn’t work as well:
The format of the book follows the common ghost story pattern where the protagonist must figure out why the spirits are haunting a location. The plot doesn’t deviate from this plan, as Riley tries to uncover what happened to a previous student at the school. This setup helps readers follow the events and make predictions, but it doesn’t present anything unexpected. Surprises make stories more creative and help readers become more mentally engaged.
Riley meets a possessed, dissected frog early in the book, and his character is puzzling. Riley assumes he’s the cause of her problems, but he says she doesn’t know what’s really going on. He says little, and his statements are vague. Then, he disappears for periods of time out of fear, but the cause of his fear is unknown. These disappearances add mystery to the plot, and his part in the conflict is revealed later.

The Final Verdict:
A horror-filled nightmare of revenge. The story is very spooky, and the author’s descriptions create strong emotions. Riley’s ordeal seems hopeless, as the ghost manipulates her throughout the story. The book is highly recommended for lovers of ghost stories, and readers looking for a creepy twist to middle school life.


*Find More Info & Buy This Book HERE!*

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