Thank you to my fellow HWA member Cullen Bunn for the digital ARC of his Middle Grade graphic novel, GHOUL NEXT DOOR. I received it in consideration for the Bram Stoker Award. Opinions are my own.
Fun fact: I grew up an hour from the infamous Salem, MA (1), and have read no shortage of spooky stories set in that area. These books are never “just OK”; they’re either gag-me-with-a-spoon tropey or mind-blowingly amazing. Set in a fictional town next to Salem, GHOUL NEXT DOOR is, fortunately, the latter.
Preteen Grey, while doing a history project on the town cemetery, catches the attention of a sensitive young ghoul named Lavinia who is curious about the human world. The two form a fast though unlikely friendship that is put to the test when Grey’s human best friend, Marshall, is kidnapped to the ghoul world of Necropolis to become the next meal for the former Sally-Bea Hurst, the traitor witch of 1690s Salem.
Packed with twists, turns, all the feels, and a bittersweet ending, this book is a must-read for Halloween season.
- This book is packed with facts about monsters and ghouls (anyone else know they originated in pre-Islamic folklore?), which is especially impressive considering this is a graphic novel.
- Cat Farris‘s illustrations are gorgeous, the perfect blend of hard lines and watercolor. Making a ghoul’s face adorable is no easy task, but Farris nails it in Lavinia.
- Grey is able to overcome his initial fears/misconceptions about Lavinia. His ability to look past her scariness, befriending and caring about her because of her character and heart, carries a powerful message about accepting those different from us.
- It looks like Grey is white/Asian biracial, but this is never explicitly addressed. As the mom of biracial kids, we 100% need more stories with POC characters where race doesn’t factor into the story.
- This book is not for overly sensitive readers. Content warnings include kids getting kidnapped by supernatural beings, references to ghouls feasting on human corpses, and some pretty dark (though fair and accurate) commentary about the Salem Witch Trials. Lavinia leaves gifts of human teeth and such.
(1) Leaps and bounds cooler than Plymouth Rock.