City of Ghosts (2018) by V.E. Schwab is a Middle Grade book that, well, reads like a Middle Grade book.
In other words, it’s entertaining and engaging enough for that age group, but doesn’t have the depth or complexity in plot or characters to expand beyond that audience, which I’m clearly well, well outside of.
Ever since she almost drowned, young Cassidy Blake has been able to see ghosts, to “pull aside the veil” and step for a brief time into their world.
She’s also picked up a best friend — Jacob — a ghost of roughly her own age.
Cass is looking forward to a nice easy summer at the beach, but instead her author parents, who write about the paranormal (dad’s the skeptic, mom the believer), have been picked up for a TV show and so the family heads off to Edenborough.
There Cass meets another girl, Lara, who shares her ability and even seems to know more about its rules and purpose. On the darker side, she also meets the Red Raven, a malevolent spirit that steals away children.
As noted, I’m decades removed from the age group here, so keep that in mind. That said, while I think the book would go over decently enough for its middle grade target, it felt like a missed opportunity to me.
The plot is simple and straightforward to a fault I’d say, even for its age group, and its parts put a bit too neatly together. And while the prose is smooth and the pacing good, the language and style are pretty flat and the frequent references to Harry Potter felt somewhat forced past the first few. Finally, there’s little character development throughout.
City of Ghosts is a genial enough middle grade story that is mildly tense and will probably please most of its audience sufficiently enough that they’ll pick up book two, Tunnel of Bones, but it would have been nice to see it push itself a bit harder.