Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine, by Patrick Carman

Patrick Carman clearly appreciates a good literary gimmick. He promoted his Land of Elyon books via a four-month-long cross-country tour in a decorated bus, he contributed a novel to Scholastic's bell-and-whistle-laden 39 Clues series, and his latest work combines conventional YA horror writing with online videos.

Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine are set in an isolated town in the Oregon wilderness. As the story opens, 15-year-old best friends Ryan and Sarah are still feeling the effects of an ill-advised trip to an abandoned gold-mining dredge outside of town: Ryan's leg was broken, their parents have forbidden them to see one another, and they're pretty sure they encountered the ghost of Old Joe Bush, a former dredge worker who died on the site twenty-odd years earlier.

Carman's story is divided into two parts—the books, which are told from Ryan's perspective in diary format (complete with fake handwriting and drink stains), and Sarah's videos, which consist of short clips of the Blair Witch-style hijinks at the dredge. The videos are posted online and accessed via passwords the characters exchange over the course of the series.

Ryan and Sarah's severed friendship adds an interesting element to the books, but Carman's ghost story plot is about as original as an episode of Scooby-Doo. Still, there is a reason why haunted house (or haunted dredge) stories continue to find a market—take a dark, creepy space, toss in some unexplained footsteps, add a few wide-eyed victims and voilà: horror gold! Carman doesn't even need to write a convincingly creepy description of his dredge; the videos do most of the work for him.

We're not arguing that these stories are great literature, or even genuinely scary if you're older than, say, nine, and we're not even going to start on the implausibility of a 15-year-old boy catching a Castle of Otranto reference off the top of his head. (Plus, Skeleton Creek ends on a shameless cliffhanger, so you can kiss the cover price of both books goodbye if you want to find out what happens.) But Carman's book/video hybrid is entertaining enough, and his blend of kid-appropriate horror and accessible technology might be the very thing to tempt reluctant readers to give reading for pleasure another shot... so we'll give him a pass on the Otranto thing.

But just this once.

[Review copies provided by publisher.]
Posted by: Julianka


12 Feb, 2010 04:55 AM @ version 0

Isn't Otronto the one where the giant helmet falls from the sky and squashes someone? Wonderful literature.

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