In the aftermath of their parents’ separation, Neil and his older sister Bree go to stay with their aunts in a small town in the middle of nowhere. There’s not much to do there — not much, that is, except breaking into Graylock, the abandoned mental hospital in the woods. Along with two new friends, Neil and Bree explore the old asylum, and soon afterward find that a spectral presence has followed them home…
The Ghost of Graylock is a ghost story for middle-grade readers, and it’s also a mystery, because Neil and Bree have to figure out who is haunting them and why. Roughly the first two-thirds of the book are relatively slow, building up the spooky atmosphere without giving the reader many clues to chew on, but it genuinely is spooky and it works anyway. When the clues do start coming, they’re bombshells; I think I gasped when I read one of them!
Again, this is a middle-grade book, and so the writing style “reads young” in a way that’s hard to describe. However, Dan Poblocki does add some depth to the novel that adult readers will appreciate, particularly Neil’s feeling of kinship with Graylock’s former patients (the kids’ mother is dealing with what appears to be depression, and Neil worries that he too has a “shadow” that could come to rule him) and Bree’s reflection that most ghost stories are sad. She’s right, of course, since almost all ghost stories start with a tragic death, and this one is no exception. So, there’s some meat here for the adult reader to chew on, in addition to the spookiness. And for a 9- or 10-year-old reader, this will be a great read in every way.
And now I get to the aspect of The Ghost of Graylock that most impressed me. It may seem like an odd thing to zero in on, but it worked so well that I just have to. I’ll call it… Chekhov’s Building. Or maybe… architectural foreshadowing. Neil and Bree, as mentioned above, explore Graylock early in the book. Then, the climactic scene also takes place in the asylum. Every single quirk of the building that is relevant to the climax is set up during that first exploration. If there’s a second way in or out of a room, we’ve seen it. If there’s a structural weakness that comes into play, it was already implied to be there. Thus, whenever some aspect of the building helps either the kids or the villain, we’re not thinking “Well, isn’t that convenient,” we’re thinking “Of course!” It works extremely well.
The Ghost of Graylock will be highly enjoyable for the target audience. Older readers may prefer a more complex prose style, but to those readers it will still offer good chills and some depth. I enjoyed it.