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Book Review: The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein

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If you know a young reader who’s interested in exploring ghost stories and tales with a spooky bite, I’ve got the perfect book for you. Chris Grabenstein’s The Crossroads is an excellent entry vehicle for these young readers, especially reluctant ones who get bored reading.

There’s nothing boring about this book. It starts off with a bang and keeps the hits coming as the young hero and his stepmom untangle all the intricacies of the supernatural mystery that lies at the heart of this book. There are some deaths that occur during the unveiling of the tale, and some genuinely creepy twists and turns, so this isn’t an entirely bloodless read.

The 11-year-old hero, Zack, is a great kid who young readers and the parents of young readers will enjoy. He’s a fun, shy kid with hang-ups that a lot of young readers will empathize with. The bits and pieces when he hears his dead mother talking to him sarcastically hurt and will win over readers.

The most surprising character in the book is Judy, Zack’s stepmom. Usually the adults in a juvenile novel take backstage to the action, but Judy stays right at the heart of it and often tripped across, reveals all on her own. In fact, Grabenstein uses Judy to build up all the suspense and tension that surrounds Zack.

Other characters step on stage as well, including Gerda Spratling, the weird old widow who maintains a grave marker at the crossroads where her fiancé was killed. She evokes sympathy at first, but Grabenstein twists and warps her to expose the darkness within.

The story’s pacing is excellent. Short, bite-sized chapters create a momentum from page one that sweeps the reader through the narrative. This would be a perfect read-aloud book for teachers to share in the classroom, or to read to your kids at night. I’m planning to take this one to read to my 12-year-old the next time we go camping because it’s a perfect ghost story for out in the wilds.

Grabenstein has written a sequel detailing more adventures for Zack and Judy. I can’t wait to pick up The Hanging Hill and see what happens next.

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