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Sunday, January 27, 2013

On The Day I Died, written by Candace Fleming. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2012. $19.99 ages 11 and up

"The seat belt held, pulled me up short, my head dangling between the car's headlights. Somehow I managed to right myself, brace my feet against the front grille and grasp the white-hot hood ornament. Steam rose from my hands, and the burned-meat stench of charred flesh - my flesh - savaged my nose."

Rarely would you catch me reading ghost stories, or talking about them. But, I am a huge fan of Candace Fleming and knowing that she wrote this book was all I needed to convince me to give it a go. Again, WOW!

In a note from the author following the stories told, she says:

"You can blame my fondness for ghost stories on my mother. She was forever telling tales of strange events that took place in our town...And Mom would spin hair-raising tales about a corpse that wouldn't decay, or a phantom-filled trolley car, or a seaweed-covered ghost pilot whose plane went down in Lake Michigan during World War II."

Only years later did the author recognize that her mother's stories were 'inspired by truth - by nearby places, real-life people, actual events.' She sets out to tell her own in this book filled with tragic  stories from nine teenage ghosts, and set in Chicago...the spookiest place the author knows!

It begins with Mike, a young man heading home late and concerned about the flak he is going to get for not meeting curfew with his mother. As he drives, he comes upon a young girl in saddle shoes who is soaking wet and in need of a ride home. He drops her off, discovers that she has left her shoes behind and drives back to her house with them. It is then her mother tells him that she is a ghost and that Carol Anne has been dead for fifty-six years, and is buried in White Cemetery. He can take her shoes there. What the heck? He's late anyway.

Only upon arrival does he realize that she is buried in a 'cemetery for teenagers'. Each plot is the gravesite for children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. And, they are calling to him:

"He could see them. They were all around him. Flickering shadows as insubstantial as drawings on air - a girl wearing a long, old-fashioned skirt, a boy with a camera looped around his neck. And others. A ring of wan shapes hovering on the fringes of the shifting shadows."

Are you intrigued? Middle graders and high schoolers will be. This would be a great book of short stories to share as a classroom readaloud at any time. Each ghost lived at a different time in history, each has a unique and very distinct voice, in keeping with their life and times. They need an audience, they need to tell their stories that each end in their own death and Mike is it!

Surprising and macabre, while also drawing readers in without terrifying them, this is a book that will find fans of all ages. As I read the ghost stories, and then the notes included for each about Chicago, its people and history, I knew that my friend Helen would also be intrigued. It's definitely worth the read for a sly look at Chicago history, as well as the variety in the horror genre.

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