The Bellwoods Game

 
4.1 (2)
 
0.0 (0)
89 0
The Bellwoods Game
Age Range
10+
Release Date
July 18, 2023
ISBN
978-1665912501
Buy This Book
      
Everyone knows Fall Hollow is haunted. It has been ever since Abigail Snook went into the woods many years ago, never to be seen again. Since then, it’s tradition for the sixth graders at Beckett Elementary to play the Bellwoods Game on Halloween night. Three kids are chosen to go into the woods. Whoever rings the bell there wins the game and saves the town for another year, but if Abigail’s ghost captures the players first, the spirit is let loose to wreak havoc on Fall Hollow—or so the story goes.

Now that it’s Bailee’s year to play, she can finally find out what really happens. And legend has it the game’s winner gets a wish. Maybe, just maybe, if Bailee wins, she can go back to the way things used to be before her grandma got sick and everyone at school started hating her. But when the night begins, everything the kids thought they knew about the game—and each other—is challenged. One thing’s for sure: something sinister is at play…waiting for them all in the woods.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
If a bell rings in the woods...
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
4.0
Bailee lives in Fall Hollow, where Abbie Snook went missing in the woods back in 1982. Ever since, sixth graders have played an elaborate game that involves going into the woods to ring a bell. This is said to protect the town from evil and keep the spirit of Abigail at bay. Bailee has researched it and is determined to play the game. This keeps her mind off her Nan, who had a stroke, and the fight she had with Fen that made everyone at school hate her. She does have an ally in Noah, who is new to the school and wants to report for the school paper about the Bellwoods Game. Madison, who used to be friendly with Bailee, tells her where the meeting is held, and thirteen children show up wanting to participate. The winner of the previous year's game chooses the three participants by having them draw stones, and Bailee, Fen, and a girl named Carmen are chosen. Rumor has it that the winner also gets to make a wish for whatever their heart desires, and it will come true. The woods are confusing and dangerous, but Bailee has done her research. Noah shows up to help her, and Carmen is smart and prepared, but Fen is determined to win and doesn't work well with the others. Back in the safety of Fall Hollow, it's easy to believe that this is just a game, and no more scary than the creepy graveyard that Bailee finds oddly comforting. Once in the woods, however, it is clear that something evil is actually in the woods. What will it take for the children to survive, since ringing the bell is actually necessary to protect their town?

Good Points
The interior illustrations, also by Krampien, are very attractive, and remind me of the illustrations in Chew's Everyday Magic books or Edward Eager's titles. The topic of illustrations in middle grade literature comes up every once in a while, but never seems to go anywhere. I'm glad to see these illustrations, and hope that it is the start of a trend!

The Bellwoods Game has quite a well developed mythology, and the tradition of the winner being the head of the committee to set up the next year's game is interesting. Young readers will imagine themselves in this role, and I love the agency and empowerment it gives the children to fight the encroaching evil. Bailee has just enough home and school drama to motivate her to get her mind on something else like the game, and she has a whole notebook filled with facts about it. Noah is a good friend who helps out quite a lot. The legend of Abigail is well presented, and her character comes into other parts of the story, but I don't want to say too much and ruin all the twists and turns.

While this wasn't as terrifying as some ghost stories, there's a lot of adventure that will make this a good choice for readers who like Reese's Every Bird a Prince or Puckett's The Glass Witch, or other books where there are creepy things happening in a neighborhood, and the children who live there have to deal with them and make everything right.
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Facing one's fears
Overall rating
 
4.3
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
What worked:
The Bellwoods Game provides a fresh twist to spooky ghost stories. There’s no haunted house where characters find themselves trapped but the three participants in the Bellwoods Game cannot leave the forest until the game has been completed. Failure to ring the bell will result in a spirit being freed to torment the town until next Halloween. Adding to the mystery is the fact that survivors from previous years can’t/won’t talk about their experiences so readers are left to imagine what’s going on. The Specter comments that humans fear the unknown and often make it a bigger threat than what’s real. However, that’s not true in this book. The reality inside the forest is far worse than the characters ever dreamed.
The author includes several subplots involving the characters that generate emotional connections to them. Bailee is the main character and she’s been ostracized at school for several weeks. The author doesn’t reveal what happened right away so readers are free to speculate about what’s going on. Madison is the one person still talking to Bailee but even she has become more distant since the incident. Noah is present for most of the narrative as he’s doggedly inquisitive and wants to write an article about the Bellwoods Game. He’s a new student but remembers issues at his previous school that still trouble him. Carmen is a know-it-all classmate who no one really talks to or tries to befriend. Fen has been taking reckless risks recently and it becomes clear that he’s dealing with internal conflicts too. Even the specter called Abigail has unresolved problems that will need to be resolved.
The author skillfully builds suspense as the plot moves toward the climax pitting Bailee against the antagonist. Readers will note clues and become aware of what’s going to happen so the plot becomes a question of when they will occur. The Specter can attack by altering the forest and victims must sacrifice something they cherish to escape safely. Characters are going to be separated and “picked off” one by one so readers are left to wonder who’s next and how will it happen. Three sixth graders are supposed to enter the woods and attempt to ring the bell but the author includes two more non-participants to provide two more potential victims. In addition, Bailee wants to end the Bellwoods Game for good so readers can speculate how she might accomplish this impossible task.
What didn’t work as well:
Bailee isn’t able to share the truth about her feelings with others and it’s not clear why. It makes sense that she couldn’t do it when her classmates first started shunning her but it makes less sense as she begins to bond with other game participants. Fen treats her unfairly and Noah reveals some truths about his past experiences but she still won’t say anything about the problems bothering her. Readers will already know about them so why won’t she say anything to the other characters?
The final verdict:
This book presents an entertaining ghost tale with many twists and turns along the way. As with most exciting climaxes, the characters are left to formulate a plan to solve an impossible conflict. The climax is the most creative part of the plot and I recommend you give this book a shot.
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