What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie
Ginny — or Gin — Anderson is looking forward to the summer writing workshop she’s going to attend with her best friend Erica, in their hometown of Chicago, until Dad upends the family’s plans because of a job. He’d going to restore a century-old house-turned-hotel, The Woodmoor Manor, in Michigan. The family will live there while he works.
This sounds terrible to Gin and her older brother Leo. While Leo is soon appeased by the news that Saugatuck, the nearby small town, has a public basketball court, Gin will not give in so easily. Her resentment turns to dread as soon as they enter the neglected old manor, triggered by the quiet ticking of a clock somewhere in the house. Except, no one else hears it, and Gin doesn’t find a clock anywhere in the place. Her room is lovely, but she is immediately spooked by a voice coming out of the air, whispering her name. That turns out to be Leo, messing with her via the old-fashioned speaking tube that goes from the kitchen to her room—but the next few spooky incidents can’t be explained away by an annoying older brother.
Soon Gin meets Will, who is also summer kid, but who has stayed in Saugatuck for years, and knows the legends about the Manor. He tells her to stay away from the third-floor ballroom. He also mentions legends of spooky, humanoid creatures who inhabit the woods… but Gin’s focus is immediately drawn to the house, especially when all the light bulbs in the kitchen explode at once. There is something in the house, something angry, and it seems to have targeted Gin.
2021’s What Lives in the Woods is a spooky middle-grade book, with young sleuths who have to work together and decipher clues. I liked Gin’s sprightly and snarky narrative voice. Leo develops as a character. The kids’ parents are not dead, neglectful nor incompetent, which I appreciated, and yet it’s up to the kids to uncover the mystery and put things right.
Currie uses some fun old artifacts to flesh out the mystery, like a skeleton key, a gramophone, and a manual typewriter. (I was a little surprised Leo and Gin knew what that was.) I liked the way, once Will and Gin join forces with Leo, his obsession with ghost-hunting shows proves to be useful. I also like how much Gin loves Agatha Christie, though frankly I was baffled by her parents, who kept saying those books were too “scary” for her.
I don’t read middle-grade work. I bought this to give away at Halloween, but after reading the back blurb I decided to give it a try. It’s fun! It’s a good Halloween book, but frankly this is a ghost story for all seasons.