Skeleton Creek: Multi-media mystery for kids

Patrick Carman Skeleton Creek book reviewsSkeleton Creek & Ghost in the Machinefantasy and science fiction book reviews by Patrick Carman

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIn the Skeleton Creek duology, best friends Ryan McCray and Sarah Fincher team up to investigate the mysterious goings-on at an old mining dredge in their town. The story is told in Ryan’s journal, in which he records his thoughts and his correspondence with Sarah; and in Sarah’s films, creepy Blair Witch-style videos that are accessible on the Internet using passwords given in the text. Before I go any further, I should say that Skeleton Creek is not fantasy and is better categorized as mystery.

Skeleton Creek begins with Ryan recovering from a broken leg; he fell when spooked on an expedition to the dredge with Sarah. The friends’ parents forbid them to see each other, but they communicate via emails and Sarah’s videos as they continue their sleuthing. They find a history of suspicious deaths at the dredge, along with cryptic references to alchemy and, just possibly, a vengeful ghost.

Skeleton Creek sets an interesting scene, but is ultimately a little disappointing. Ryan is very introspective, and much of his narrative consists of him telling the reader how scared he is. This gets a little repetitive, along with both kids’ constant insistence that there’s something suspicious going on at the dredge and that they’ve stumbled across something they weren’t supposed to know. It’s pretty clear that there is something and that Ryan and Sarah have poked a metaphorical hornet’s nest. Patrick Carman shows this just fine and doesn’t need to tell it so much.

The scariest moment, for me, was a brief passage toward the end in which Ryan begins to doubt his own memories, and starts wondering if something terrible happened to Sarah on the same night he broke his leg. This would have been a haunting avenue to explore, but it comes out of nowhere and then vanishes as soon as it appeared. I think Carman could have done a lot more with this if he’d drawn it out longer. There’s also a scene that throws the reader right out of the story because, supposedly, Ryan is writing in his journal while snooping in his parents’ room. He only has a brief window of time to do this, yet he’s writing as he searches? It’s a little hard to swallow.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Ghost in the Machine is stronger. Ryan’s leg is improving, and this means both that he’s more able to help Sarah with the investigating and that he’s in less of a funk. Carman builds a lot of suspense in this volume. Ryan begins to wonder whether his own father is up to something sinister, and this plotline is handled very well. There’s something about not being able to trust your own parents that’s even scarier, in a way, than things that go bump in the night. The mystery builds to a satisfying conclusion. I almost think Skeleton Creek might have been better as one book, with some of the introspection from book one trimmed out. Then again, making readers wait for the ending was probably part of the suspense!

I thought the integration of text and video worked well, in general. I did have some connectivity problems (my ISP’s fault, not Carman’s) while reading these books, and found myself wishing the videos were on a CD-ROM so I didn’t have to wait for them to load. However, that would raise the price of the books and partially negate the “new media” aspect.

I recommend Skeleton Creek for kids who like ghost stories and mysteries, and who have the patience to get through a slowish start.

Skeleton Creek — (2009-2014) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Strange things are happening in Skeleton Creek… and Ryan and Sarah are trying to get to the heart of it. But after an eerie accident leaves Ryan housebound and forbidden to see Sarah, their investigation takes two tracks: Ryan records everything in his journal, while Sarah uses her videocam to search things out… and then email the clips for Ryan to see. In a new, groundbreaking format, the story is broken into two parts — Ryan’s text in the book, and Sarah’s videos on a special website, with links and passwords given throughout the book.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  1. I’m really NOT a fan of the multimedia addition to books. However, I’ve been interested in trying out this series – although Carman seems to be a mixed bag. I loved Atherton but not his first series.

  2. My daughter (11) came home from school one afternoon begging me to visit the website for Skeleton Creek. She’d gotten the code from a friend at school to watch the related video. Though not my thing, it certainly had her excited. :-)

    I think books like these are good to pull in reluctant readers. A lot of kids don’t like to read. I’m thankful my daughter is not one of those. She’s completely obsessed with books just as I am and my mother.

  3. Glad to hear it! :) Yeah, I could definitely see stuff like this drawing in kids who wouldn’t ordinarily get enthused over books. It does feel kind of like you’re trying to piece it together along with the heroes, and the videos work well with the concept.

    I do think this is one of those series that is best appreciated by the target age group, rather than one of those books that translates just as well to an adult audience. But there’s nothing wrong with that :)

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