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Book Review: The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein

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"Have you ever seen a face hidden in the bark of a tree and known that the man trapped inside wanted to hurt you?"  It's the perfect opening for Chris Grabenstein's ghost story, The Crossroads.

Grabenstein, author of the John Ceepak/Jersey Shore mysteries, and the Christopher Miller holiday thrillers, has tried his hand at a book for young readers, ages 9 to 12.  And, he captures boys and ghost stories beautifully. 

At eleven, Zack Jennings is moving to his father's hometown, North Chester, Connecticut, with his father and new stepmother, Judy.  None of them know that their house sits on a haunted crossroads, an intersection where 41 people died in a collision with a car, a bus, and a police motorcycle.  There are stories about the intersection and the killer trees at the crossroads, but newcomers have to discover the horrors themselves.

Zack is haunted by the memories of his mother, a woman who died of cancer.  Because she blamed him for her life, he blames himself for her death.  He'll discover a new life in Connecticut – a fun stepmother, a dog, a best friend unlike any friend he could imagine.  And, he'll meet the woman who still tends the memory of her dead fiancé by bringing roses to the tree at the crossroads. When Zack's father said they'd move for a new life, he had no idea what Zack was getting into. 

My compliments to the author for avoiding stereotypes.  Judy, the stepmother, is a wonderful character, a children's author who enjoys Zack and his imagination.  And, as a librarian, I appreciate Mrs. Emerson, the public librarian.  She does her job well, but she also shows spunk.  And how many adult readers picture librarians going to "submarine races"?

Grabenstein does a wonderful job bringing this ghost story to life.  He includes the urban legends so many kids enjoy scaring themselves with – the motorcycle cop who died, but came back to prevent another accident, the woman hitchhiker who disappears.  He adds his own creative ghost story, one fifty-years-old, and adds humor.  There are explosions and fire, kidnapping, ghosts, and wild chase scenes.  The Crossroads is a perfect ghost story for summer escapist reading.  And, if you can pry it from your kids' hands, it's enjoyable summer reading for adults as well.

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