Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 142
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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