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Skeleton Creek
By Patrick Carman
Scholastic Press
ISBN: 9780545075664
$14.99
Grades 5 and Up
In Stores Feb. 10, 2009

*Recommended*

(Warning: This book is not a graphic novel, but I’m about to use that genre to help describe this book. You’ll see how it connects in a minute.)

When I was in middle school I read plenty of comics. I wasn’t really reading many traditional books at that time. There was an era where not only was reading comic books “not reading” but it was considered an outright damaging thing for children. While some still hold that belief, times have changed enough to where comics and graphic novels have gained fairly wide acceptance as legitimate reading materials.

Even though I was steeped in comics for a while, my tastes eventually expanded. I still like graphic novels, but I also read “real” books all the time. My point being? Comics didn’t hurt my interest in reading – they helped.

Then along comes a book like Skeleton Creek. Part book, part online movie. It incorporates text and video in a way that has not been done before. It brings up all the old comic book arguments. What is reading? What is a book? Add to those the question of whether the internet is helping or hurting the reading interest/ability of our youth, and you’ve got some thinking to do. Skeleton Creek will be the topic of some debate, folks. None of it would be worth much if the book wasn’t so much fun to read.

The story moves from the get-go. We find out that the book is really Ryan’s journal. Ryan is a compulsive, passionate writer who would be lost without the ability to put pen to paper. In handwriting-style font, Ryan describes a recent accident that has left him bed ridden, separated from his friend Sarah, and wrapped up in a mystery that he is in no position to solve. Skeleton Creek, a tiny mountain town that was once bustling with gold rush activity, has been host to some strange goings-on. The abandoned dredge in the nearby woods may be haunted. Ryan and Sarah’s first nighttime visit to the dilapidated old machine nearly killed Ryan. Sarah, a curious amateur filmmaker, wants to get to the bottom of things. The two are forbidden (by their parents) to talk, but communicate anyway though email and videos that Sarah sends (and the reader watches). As the mystery becomes more complex, involving family members, Ryan and Sarah become increasingly brazen in their investigation. It all culminates in a genuinely scary middle of the night trip to the Dredge that ends with our protagonists in peril.

It’s the kind of cliffhanger ending that will leave some readers frustrated. Scratch that – outright displeased. But it’s for the right reasons. There is a sequel that will be released in September ’09 (Ghost in the Machine), so that will ease some readers, anxious to know how it will end. Initially, before I knew about the sequel, I thought it was up to the reader to piece together the ending through online clues – man am I glad they didn’t go that route. However, there is a large amount of online content for readers to delve into before the sequel hits shelves for those who are so inclined. All of the sites associated with the book treat the story like it really happened, increasing the scare factor.

The smooth combination of text and video is impressive. Every couple chapters, Sarah sends Ryan a message with a password. You head to the website, type in the password, and the video begins immediately. Some videos show Sarah talking, but most are from the field, revealing new characters or information about the dredge. Fans of scary will love these, while easily spooked children’s lit bloggers may choose to watch them with all the lights on, and the stereo playing. And the TV on.

There are moments that distract from the storyline. One occurs when Ryan is writing down his escape from the house as it happens. I know the author wanted to express the tension of the moment, but make sure your disbelief is set to “suspended” for this scene. Also, the character who plays Sarah occasionally lapses into some “just spit it out!”-type moments. Thankfully, these flaws are fairly minor, and do not have much of an impact on the work as a whole.

There will be those who question the legitimacy of the format, but here’s the bottom line:

It’s an entertaining read, an engaging mystery, and it should perk up the ears of even the most reluctant of readers. You will be doing yourself a favor by adding it to your collection.

Watch the Skeleton Creek book trailer:

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.

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