15-year-old Ryan and his best friend Sarah have discovered something very odd about their small Oregon town of Skeleton Creek. An abandoned mining dredge in the woods appears to be haunted by the ghost of a man who was sucked into the gears decades ago. No one in the town will talk about it, though – and the subject of a strange and very secret society called The Crossbones is absolutely buried, even though Ryan’s dad may be a member.
After a midnight accident up at the dredge damages his leg so badly that he is virtually bedridden for weeks, Ryan stays in his room and fills his diary with paranoid musings about his town’s sinister secrets. Sarah, meanwhile, keeps filming her clandestine visits to the dredge and posting them on her website for Ryan’s eyes only. They’ve been forbidden to contact each other, but luckily no one has taken away their computers.
The book takes the form of Ryan’s diary entries, of course, and by themselves they are ominous, if not absolutely chilling. Even though Ryan is certain his parents are spying on him and may be involved in whatever weirdness is permeating Skeleton Creek, it’s hard to imagine that his parents are up to no good. Maybe it’s because Ryan himself doesn’t quite believe it. Anyway, I read the book all the way through while snug in my bed and didn’t once consider leaving the closet light on all night.
Throughout Ryan’s diary, he mentions the videos Sarah has posted online, commenting on them in an enigmatic enough manner that we’re not really sure what happens in them. The idea is to watch each video as we come to them in the story, but I hate logging on while in bed, so I watched them all the next morning.
These shaky, handheld videos owe much to The Blair Witch Project, complete with creepy sound effects and not quite enough light. You may be rolling your eyes, but the BWP scared the socks off me 10 years ago and these Skeleton Creek videos were eerie enough to speed up my heart rate. Some of them are just Sarah sitting in front of her webcam going on and on about how weird everything is, and these are wonderfully authentic in their rather boring dorkiness. And then there are her night-time trips to the dredge, with crunching leaves and heavy breathing and the rubbing of old wood and metal and sudden shadowy glimpses of scary stuff. Yikes!
This is a terrific book to share with middle school students. It is slim and covered with skulls, always a plus, and if you go to the website and show them the very first video, they’ll be hooked, I guarantee it. Shudder-inducing, to be sure, and it might even inspire them to make some scary book-and-videos of their own. Check out Scholastic's website for plenty of cool extras, and Patrick Carman's website is worth a peek as well.
Grades 6 - 9