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 Mysteries.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B