Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 139
Facing one's fears
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
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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