A Festival of Ghosts, by William Alexander. (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 272 pages, $17.99)
National Book Award winner and former Minnesotan William Alexander writes stories for young readers that have rich layers of metaphor and language that resonate far beyond their plot.
“A Festival of Ghosts” continues the adventures of “junior ghost appeasement specialist” Rosa Diaz and her best friend, Jasper Chevalier. Their town, Ingot, is filled with ghosts that are stealing the voices of local children and their teachers as they act out over century-old grudges.
Rosa and her mother, who carries out her own appeasement work from the archives of the Ingot Public Library, are also grappling with the death of Rosa’s father. And Rosa faces bullying from classmates who want to resolve the town’s ghost problem by building a copper containment wall to hold them back.
Rosa is an unconventional hero, undaunted by bullying and game to face her own weak spots. She thinks outside the box to find solutions to thorny problems, as does Jasper, who is trying to sort out a haunted Renaissance Festival.
Along the way, Alexander drops tiny metaphor Easter eggs for readers, such as a library where the books keep “swapping sad and happy endings” and “pushing subtext too close to the surface.”
Apple in the Middle, by Dawn Quigley. (North Dakota State University Press, 264 pages, $25.95)
An adolescent quest for identity between white and American Indian cultures lies at the heart of this first novel by St. Catherine University Prof. Dawn Quigley.
Teenage Apple has grown up as an outsider in wealthy, white Minnetonka. Her white father has remarried and refuses to talk about her Ojibwe mother, who named Apple on her deathbed.
When her father sends her to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota for a summer, Apple again feels like a fish out of water, wondering what to make of her new relatives, including cousins Junior, Nezzie and Aunt Aubergine (Eggplant).
Quigley, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band, mines the humor of Apple’s awkwardness in her new environment.
The novel takes many detours for cultural explanation, which doesn’t move the story forward, but does provide a fascinating background to the Turtle Mountain Michif language and its unique blend of Ojibwe, French and Cree.
“Apple in the Middle” is at its best when it unfolds into its characters and lets go of Apple’s awkward and anxious inner monologues. As she connects with her newfound family, she gains a sense of self that allows her to walk more easily in both worlds that are now home.
Otherwood, by Pete Hautman. (Candlewick, 320 pages, $16.99)
In this sweet and haunting middle-grade tale, Pete Hautman introduces us to 9-year-old Stuey, who meets his soul mate in the elfin Elly Rose, only to lose her when a conflict from their past splits their world into separate realities.
Stuey lives with his mother next to an overgrown golf course, which was built with the illicit profits of his great-grandfather’s bootlegging during the 1920s.
The woods are haunted by voices and ghosts, which may be those of his great-grandfather, who disappeared along with his nemesis, District Attorney Robert Rosen, in the 1950s.
Oblivious to this tangled history, Stuey and Elly forge an immediate bond, one that they try to hold onto even after their worlds split into separate and warring realities.
As the two try to find a way to mend the rift in their lives, they encounter a mysterious Mushroom Man and confront misunderstandings and anti-Semitic actions of the past.
Hautman has woven a story rich with forest lore and an understanding of the fragility of wild spaces near the city.
The ache of loss also permeates this story, for lost friendships and lost wildness, even as the characters look to mend what’s broken.
The Collectors, by Jacqueline West. (Greenwillow, 384 pages, $16.99)
Giovanni Carlos Gaugez-Garcia — “Van” for short — is a small boy with a hearing aid who is often overlooked by his classmates. As the son of an opera singer, he’s also used to being the new kid in every class.
But Van has a habit of noticing treasures that no one else spots.
So when he sees a silvery squirrel drop from the chandelier at a birthday party and scurry off with the wisp of candle smoke, he thinks nothing of following the squirrel right out the window.
His pursuit draws him into a shadowy underworld of Collectors, a web of secrets that grows as he meets an uncanny opera fan and collector who follows his mother’s career.
Red Wing author Jacqueline West, author of the Books of Elsewhere series, builds her story as meticulously as Van’s miniature stage of found objects.
“The Collectors” casts a spell, even as its ending leaves the door open to a sequel.
Trisha Collopy is a Star Tribune copy editor. 612-673-4644