FICTION

Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine: The Kids Under the Stairs

Chronicle. (The Kids Under the Stairs: Bk. 2). Sept. 2021. 432p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452183213.
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Gr 4 Up–Everything is more difficult since Ben Y’s brother Benito died last year. Seventh grade is off to a rocky start, as the mysterious new student, Ace, has Ben Y feeling simultaneously happy and nervous anytime they interact. Then Mr. Mann begins a crusade to enforce the school dress code, punishing Ace and Ben Y for the most ridiculous reasons, while her best friends (Jordan J, Ben B, and Javier) appear content to follow the rules as they work on the revived school newspaper with their cherished teacher Ms. J. To top it off, Benito’s ghost appears to be typing new messages in their old secret sibling chat room on Sandbox. Holt’s sequel digs into Ben Y’s journey grappling with grief and identity. The novel hits the important points of understanding and verbalizing what one is feeling. Additionally, Ben Y’s bond with her friends demonstrates that those who truly know someone will accept them as they are and that opening up to friends and family can make a world of difference when someone is having a rough time. Every student has their own unique voice exhibited through mixed formats of chat screens, free verse, stream of consciousness, and illustrations to distinguish narrators. Physical character descriptions are vague; Ben Y and Javier are cued Latinx by name.
VERDICT An excellent addition to “The Kids Under the Stairs series and one that kids and adults alike will supremely enjoy.

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