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Kathbell Stumpf
Miss Mary
Based on the centuries old nursery rhyme "Mary Mack", the origin of which is unknown, Miss Mary brings life to Mary Mack. Miss Mary focuses on a Civil War-era restless spirit who enlists the help of a modern-day teenage girl to help solve the mysterious disappearance of her fiancé. Although classified as young adult, this cozy light paranormal mystery romance can be enjoyed by a reader of any age 13+.
In Stumpf’s debut YA ghost mystery, a high-school student discovers she has a special connection to the infamous Miss Mary Mack, the featured phantom of the children’s well-known clapping rhyme. Seventeen-year-old Anna Ipswich lives in Cannon Falls, PA, a town replete with Civil War history and artifacts. When she and several mischievous friends sneak into Mary Mack’s historical home after hours, Anna has a run in with the forlorn woman’s ghost. Driven by curiosity, she researches Mary’s story and discovers that her soldier fiancé went missing during a Civil War battle, sparking Anna’s vow to uncover the truth of his death so Mary can finally be at peace.

This is a quick, smooth read, abounding in text message vernacular, playlist-worthy song titles, and several of-the-moment Starbucks references. Anna’s budding romance with the high-school football star and reliance on her boisterous pals add a jovial, team-sleuth flavor, while the ubiquitous jock boyfriend and clique of superficial mean girls match the genre’s standards. The core group encounters plenty of high-stakes action as they set about deciphering the cryptic clues concealed in Mary’s house, and Stumpf adds just enough romance throughout to keep readers engaged. Those looking for immediate closure may be disappointed that the story ends before Anna’s questions are fully answered, but Stumpf includes a preview of the next installment for a snapshot of what’s to come.

Most catching is Stumpf’s skill in writing directly to her YA audience; Anna’s idyllic relationship with her parents sets a positive tone for teen readers, and the mystery manages dramatic flair without too much angst. Teens will also identify with Stumpf’s detailed descriptions of trendy clothing and menu choices at local hotspots, while Anna’s lovable coterie of friends, the story’s high-school ambiance, and its Civil War-infused setting will entertain both history lovers and ghost-hunting enthusiasts alike.

Takeaway: A light, ghostly suspense with wholesome teen investigators.

Comparable Titles: R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B