The Secret Grave

256p. Scholastic. Jun. 2017. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780545932509.
Gr 4–6—Twelve-year-old Hannah Eileen Flynn is irritatingly referred to as Hannah-in-the-Middle by her loud, boisterous family, made up of seven members—eight if you include their new creaky house, named Nightshade. Distraught over being abandoned by her two best friends, Luisa and Sara, who leave for spectacular summer trips, Hannah seeks solace in the peaceful forest behind her new home. Her dad has warned her not to go past the first row of pine trees, but she ignores this advice and is shocked to discover a hidden world in the quiet respite. She encounters a new friend, 12-year-old Cady. Hannah slips into the habit of escaping frequently to visit this forbidden area of the forest and is surprised every time how all signs of the outside world seem to vanish. Hannah can't quite put her finger on it, but there is something "off" about Cady, who wears oddly outdated shoes and clothing. Soon Hannah's new friend begins to appear in more modern clothes, which are almost exact copies of what Hannah is wearing. Cady also has an affinity for taming wild forest creatures, and she can eat the deadly berries from the belladonna plant. Meanwhile, Hannah is preoccupied with the fear that a ghost inhabits the attic of her new home. The Georgia setting is steamy yet chilling and lends the novel an eerie Southern gothic vibe. Suspense builds slowly but satisfyingly. Goose bumps will definitely be raised, but there's nothing too graphic. Tween readers are likely to enjoy the friendship dynamic in the plot as much as the horror. Hannah's heartfelt love of her family will also ring true.
VERDICT An engaging Southern horror tale with plenty of friendship and family drama. For fans of lightly frightening fare.

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