Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Scary School by Derek the Ghost

*A copy of the book was provided to me for review purposes by the author. Thank you!

I've often inquired whether those who read my blog would object to the idea of my reviewing things outside of the scope of YA fiction. At the same time, I have never actually went through with this. Until now. Scary School, by Derek the Ghost, is a Middle Grade novel. Personally, I really enjoyed this book. But as both a reader and a writer I did have to recognize certain differences between this and the books that I normally read here at I Write, I Read, I Review.

This is not a bad thing. But it is something I want to make abundantly clear in this review, since my responsibility is just as equally to my readers when I review something as it is to the book itself. So, why don't I stop rambling and tell you about this book? I actually think that a lot of you might enjoy this as long as you realize what you are getting yourselves into before you turn to page one.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
You think your school's scary?

Get a load of these teachers:

Ms. Fang, an 850-year-old vampire
Dr. Dragonbreath, who just might eat you before recess
Mr. Snakeskin—science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie
Mrs. T—break the rules and spend your detention with a hungryTyrannosaurus rex!


Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch


The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost!
Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends—including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf—and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky!

Scary school definitely *is* funny. That was actually one of the deciding factors that kept me turning the pages and that held my attention the most vividly as I read this book. I generally do appreciate humor in the books I read, but truthfully it's not something I often go out deliberately looking for. I usually prefer drama, and emotionally driven conflicts. But I stand behind what I said when I responded to Derek's request, and the book proved me right: "I think this is exactly what I need right now."

If you read this week's IMM, you know my grandma had to get testing done because she has been having strokes. Something lighthearted and fun like this was an absolutely perfect fit, and great company, since I could not sleep. I've written about mood effecting book enjoyment before in some of my Book Blogger Confession articles, and it was definitely at work here. 

But there is more to my feelings about the book then my mood at the time that I read it. The writing in Scary School is very clear and simple, with just enough of everything to balance it all out. It took me a bit to get use to the lessened weight on dialogue. I tend to primarily read romance and as a whole that genre tends to (by necessity!) be dialogue heavy. 

Something that I really thought was neat about this book, that I haven't seen in any of the YA that I have read, is that it contained a very unique narrative that combined a central plot with short stories about various teachers and students. This worked well for Scary School because of Derek's writing style. Which, I must also add, seemed very authentic since the character is suppose to be an 11 year old ghost. It struck a perfect balance between being true to the character and not sacrificing being a well written book to do so. In short, I didn't feel that the book was "dumbed down", and there were some very cleverly done humorous moments that I'm not totally sure the younger readers may necessarily catch right away. (I particularly liked what happened to Freddy in Mrs. Fang's class, but I'll say no more for fear of giving away spoilers...) 

The Characters:

Because of the unique structuring of the book, I must admit that I did not feel as strong a connection with our lead character, Charles Nukid, as I would normally expect from most novels. But, once again because of the structure of this book, I don't think it did as much harm here as it would in most stories. 

The reason for this is that every time the story veered off a little to give us a short tale about varying inhabitants of Scary School, they were all so interesting, unique and original that I didn't mind the diversions. What happened to Dr. Dragonbreath's class? Awesome. Anything involving Principal HeadCrusher was great. And I particularly liked Petunia's story as well. (There were way too many great characters to list them all, and my preference for the teachers may be due to my own age.) My point is that this story was about more then Charles and in large part the other people at Scary School tended to grab my interest and run with it wherever they felt like going, and I was happy to tag along.

Since this book was narrated by Derek, yet he was generally not an 'active player' in the things that he was narrating, it kept a certain level of distance between the reader and characters. This was not necessarily a bad thing -- it reminded me of the Green Forest books I loved as a kid, actually -- but it's not a writing style that I've seen often. I'm not overly familiar with whether this may be more in-use for MG, but I know I haven't seen it in YA. 

This structure may take a little getting use to, but if the reader has just a little patience and lets it do it's thing, I think most will be quite happy they stuck around. There is some very fresh imaginative stuff here that makes the book very worth reading. 

In General: 

Scary School ended up being very different then what I thought it would be, but that did not stop it from being a fun, original and exciting read. (In the name of honesty: when I think 'magic school books', I think Harry Potter. This is a very different -- but yet again, equally fun in it's own right -- book) If you are looking for some spooky fun, this comes highly recommended. I think I'll have to pick up a copy of this to give to my niece. I think she'd really enjoy it, too. 


  1. Great review Kathy this does sound very different and that cover is awesome! haha

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