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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ghoulish Song, written by William Alexander. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $16.99 ages 10 and up

"THE LAST DAY OF Kaile's life did not start well. She was up before the sun bothered to be, and fumbled a bit with her bedside lantern. The flint sparked, the wick caught, and she blinked herself awake in the sudden, violent light. Then she wound up the base and watched it turn. The lantern was a music box, a shadow puppet show, and one of Kaile's favorite things."

We're back to Zombay in this companion novel to William Alexander's National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets (2012). There is no need for you to have read the first one, but for the pure pleasure of that read itself. In the second book the setting will be familiar, the characters compelling and memorable, and the story well-crafted.

Kaile is the baker's daughter and works with her parents to run their bakery and alehouse. They all work hard to make a decent living. Her mother is a skilled baker and today is Inspection Day. When a travelling acting group of goblins asks if they might perform, Kaile gives them reluctant permission aware that her parents are not likely to approve. That decision is the catalyst for the rest of the story's action.

When her mother puts the boots to the travelling troupe, they want to curse the establishment. Kaile offers food for freedom from curses and she, in turn, is given a flute by one of the goblins. Longing to play it as her grandfather had, Kaile tries her hand. The flute plays its own tune, and causes her shadow to separate from her body. It is a sure sign to all that Kaile has died...the lack of shadow is a sign of the newly dead. They hold a funeral, refuse to look at her and force her to leave her home. With her shadow Shade in tow, Kaile sets out to discover the mystery of the flute.

It seems the flute will only play that one tune. It is the song of a young girl believed to have jumped from the bridge for lost love. In her quest to find the flute's owner, she meets numerous characters who have a part to play in discovering the answers she is seeking. As the flood threatens, Kaile finds a way to help the other musicians hold the bridge together and protect everyone from an impending disaster.

Neither book title was likely to attract my interest...generally not keen on goblins, ghosts and ghouls. Having read Secrets, I was prepared for another clever and absorbing read about a young girl's courage. William Alexander creates a convincing world in Zombay, adding humor and a believable cast whose performances leave readers invested in all that happens to them. It is a magical world filled with music and the longing to return to family.

I'm already keen to read another story of Zombay and its inhabitants...human and ghoulish. I hope William Alexander is listening!

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