National Book Award winner William Alexander conjures up a spooky adventure full of excitement in this entertaining sequel to A Properly Unhaunted Place.
Rosa Ramona Diaz, the ghost appeasing assistant librarian, has unleashed all the ghosts who were previously shut out of the small town of Ingot. Now ghosts are everywhere, and the town’s living residents are either learning to cope or trying to do the one thing no one can successfully do—banish the ghosts.
At school, something supernatural is stealing kids’ voices and leaving them speechless. And it’s Rosa’s job to solve the mystery and set things right. Meanwhile her best friend Jasper is dealing with what remains of the Renaissance Festival, where ghosts from Ingot’s past are now battling it out with the ghosts of the Renaissance reenactors. And Rosa is experiencing a haunting of her own—could her father’s ghost have followed her here?
Somehow Rosa and Jasper are going to have to find a way to bring Ingot back to normal—in a world where the living are now residing side-by-side with the dearly departed.
1 ROSA CLIMBED A TREE IN the hills above Ingot. She used one arm to climb. The other arm carried a pumpkin, which made her miss the next branch she aimed for. She lurched sideways, flailed, and caught a different branch. The pumpkin tried to roll out from under her arm, but Rosa didn’t let that happen.
“You okay?” Jasper asked from the other side of the tree. They climbed opposite sides to keep from dropping pumpkins on each other.
“Yeah,” Rosa said, “I’m okay.” The pumpkin wasn’t too heavy. She had hollowed it out and carved lantern windows into the sides. But it was still an awkward thing to haul up into a tree. She shifted her grip, reminded herself not to look down, and then looked down anyway.
Her heart grabbed both lungs to steady itself.
Rosa loathed heights. That never stopped her from climbing up and into high places, though. Her old library, back in the city, was full of massive wooden bookshelves. They towered like the trees that they used to be. And when Rosa had served there as the unofficial, too-young-to-be-hired-for-real assistant appeasement specialist, part of her job had been to climb all the way up to the tops of those shelves on tall, squeaky, wheeled ladders. They kept the wisp lanterns up there, and those lanterns needed tending, so Rosa had climbed. After tending to the lanterns she would sit at the very edge of a towering bookshelf and look down, even though the view would be nightmarish. Ghosts never gave her bad dreams, because she knew how to give those dreams right back. But Rosa often had nightmares about falling.
Her father used to comfort her after such dreams. “I’ve got you,” he would say, over and over. “I’ve got you.”
“Think this is far enough?” Jasper asked her.
“Nope,” Rosa said, and climbed higher.
“We didn’t spend this much effort yesterday,” he pointed out.
“Somebody smashed all of our low-hanging lanterns yesterday,” she answered. “These need to be way up high and out of reach.”
“Did they break all the metal ones that Nell made?”
“Yes. They broke all the metal ones that Nell made.”
“Rage,” Jasper said. He said it calmly and quietly, as though reading a book to toddlers at the library. This is a horse. This is a cow. These are ducklings. This is rage. Can you say “rage”? Rosa wondered how to illustrate “rage” in a baby book. Show an adorable tantrum with steam shooting sideways from someone’s ears? Or use a picture of a huge, erupting volcano with a face? That wouldn’t be “rage,” not as Rosa understood the word. To her it felt more like the molten and unerupting core of a planet. It kept the world in motion and alive. But it also scorched anything that got too close. Best to keep all that magma safely buried under miles and miles of solid rock.
“Rage,” she cheerfully agreed.
“Oof,” Jasper said as he climbed higher. “We should have rigged up a pulley system and hoisted these in buckets. Then we could’ve used both hands to climb, like sensible people.”
“Good idea,” Rosa said. “Let’s try that tomorrow.”
“School starts tomorrow,” Jasper reminded her. “It does for me, anyway.”
“Oh. Right.” School was a strange concept to Rosa. She wasn’t homeschooled, exactly. She had always lived in libraries, so she was library-schooled. Rosa read everything. She fell asleep each night to the rustling sounds of books sharing secrets with each other. She knew lots, and she knew how to look up things she didn’t know—but only if those things interested her. She had no idea how to drum up interest for a topic that she didn’t care about already.
Jasper pulled himself and his pumpkin up to a higher branch. Then he sat and dangled legs on either side. “I think this is plenty high. No one can reach us with baseball bats up here. Or broomsticks. Or even jousting lances.”
Rosa agreed. She still lunged one-handed for one more tree branch and hauled herself up again, just to be sure.
Jasper tied his pumpkin lantern to a branch with a length of twine. Rosa did the same on her side of the tree. They both added candles, careful not to smudge the word carved into the wax: ἀλήθɛια, or “aletheia.” It meant “remembrance” in Greek. Sort of. Mom described aletheia as the world’s memory of hidden things, but Rosa thought of it as a way to shout Don’t you DARE forget about this to the wide and entire world. It also said We remember to all hidden things nearby.
Jasper lit his dangling lantern. Rosa leaned over to watch him, just to make sure he did it right. He did. Then he put out his match by licking his fingertips and pressing them together.
She looked away quickly, pretending that she hadn’t just kept tabs on his technique. Jasper learned fast—especially for someone who grew up here, in Ingot, a place that had been utterly unhaunted until very recently. But he was still learning.
Rosa lit her own match. The candle took the flame and kept it. Warm light bounced back and forth inside the pumpkin, absorbed and reflected by its yellow, damp, freshly carved walls. She whispered “Aletheia,” and then licked her fingertips to put out the match.
Her foot slipped. Her heart lurched sideways. She dropped the still-lit match to catch herself. Then she watched it fall all the way down.
“What’s wrong?” Jasper asked her.
I paid more attention to your lantern than mine, she thought.
“I might have just started a forest fire,” she said out loud.
“I agree.” Rosa tried to figure out how to get down, which really should have been easier than climbing up but somehow wasn’t.
A small, hard thing went whipping by her ear. She heard a dull smack. Large pieces of pumpkin rained down on her head.
Rosa could think of several ghostly reasons why a wisp lantern might suddenly explode, and she mentally prepared herself to deal with one or all of those things. Such dealings would have been easier on the ground, where she could draw a protective circle around herself and not worry so much about falling, but she knew that she could probably still handle treed ghosts—or the ghosts of angry trees—from way up here if she needed to.
Is Jasper okay? she thought. He looks okay. And his lantern hasn’t exploded. That’s good. So what happened to mine? She looked up at the dangling wreckage.
She looked down.
Englebert Jones stood under the tree with a slingshot in his hand. Humphrey and Bobbie Talcott stood behind him, their freckled faces glaring and impassive.
Bobbie crossed her arms. “Nice shot,” she said.
Englebert took aim again. A small stone whacked the tree near Rosa’s head.
“I wish I’d brought my sword,” she said to Jasper. “It would have upset the wisps, so I left it at home. But a sword would be so useful now. Speak to danger in its language, or offer it your own.”
That was a quote from Catalina de Erauso, Rosa’s patron librarian and a great duelist of the sixteenth century. She killed so many of her enemies that she took up the arts of appeasement to calm their vengeful ghosts. Then she made a donkey-drawn cart into a traveling library and wandered the deserts of Spain.
“You probably shouldn’t kill them,” Jasper said. “Ms. Talcott is the mayor. She’d be upset if you slaughtered her children. And I can’t imagine anything worse than to be haunted by Englebert Jones.”
“I can,” said Rosa. “It would be worse to be haunted by me.”
She wondered what to do about this situation. Her match still smoldered down there somewhere. She could speak to it, and maybe coax it into a larger and more frightening flame. But that would be bad for the tree—and also bad for the two of them still stuck in the tree.
Englebert circled around, took aim with his slingshot, and shattered Jasper’s lantern.
“Rage,” Jasper said calmly. He took a pebble from his pocket and tossed it at the ground.
Englebert crouched, ready to duck and dodge, but the pebble landed far away from him.
“You missed,” Bobbie said.
“I wasn’t aiming for any of you,” Jasper explained.
Rosa leaned back against the tree. This should be fun.
Other stones began to move. They rolled across the forest floor and rose up from underneath it, shedding dirt and leaves to cluster around Jasper’s tossed pebble. The stones gathered into the shape of a horse.
Jerónimo stood, reared up, and screamed. A living horse sounds terrifying when it screams, but the cry of a dead one is very much worse. Bobbie, Humphrey, and Englebert bolted for town. The haunted horse trotted over to the dropped slingshot, stepped on it, and broke it in half.
“Nicely done,” Rosa said.
“Thanks,” said Jasper. “My teacher should be proud.”
“I’m talking about your mom.”
“Don’t you talk about my mom.”
They climbed down the tree. Jerónimo stood waiting for them. Rosa kept her distance—not because the horse was a ghost, but because he was a horse. Rosa was not a horse person. She busied herself by gathering up the two fallen candles and the match, just to make sure they didn’t start a forest fire.
Jasper offered Jerónimo a sugar cube. Crushed sugar fell from the horse’s stone-toothed mouth.
“I don’t know if Ronnie can really taste anything,” Jasper admitted, “but he does seem to remember the taste. Maybe that’s enough.”
“Ronnie?” Rosa had trouble reconciling the stone stallion with such an adorable nickname.
Jasper shrugged. “He isn’t the same horse. Not really. He’s a bit less and a bit more. So it felt weird to call him by his old name.” The horse stamped a hoof. “And I think he expects a ride now that I’ve called him here.”
“Go ahead,” said Rosa. Jasper clearly wanted to ride, too.
“What about the lanterns?”
“We’ve got a few left. I’ll just hang them from the lowest branches. They should be fine. For now. I don’t think our pumpkin-smashers will work up the courage to come back tonight.”
Jasper mounted up, which looked difficult. Jerónimo no longer tolerated saddles. “See you after school?”
“Right. School. Sure, I’ll see you then.”
The haunted horse cantered away with Jasper on his back.
Rosa watched them go. Then she watched Ingot. She could see most of the small town from here. It lay nestled in a valley like a shiny rock in the palm of a cupped hand. Late summer sunlight disappeared behind the western mountain range.
One by one, the wisps came out.
Dozens of small, floating lights flickered in the dusk like fireflies. They swirled through leaves and branches, lost and looking for somewhere to be.
Wisps had a reputation for pretending to be other sorts of light—welcoming farmhouse windows, taillights on a mountain road, flashlights held by search parties—so they often got blamed for leading the living astray. That wasn’t fair, though. It wasn’t their fault. The wisps themselves were also lost.
William Alexander won the National Book Award for his debut novel, Goblin Secrets, and won the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. His other novels include A Festival of Ghosts, A Properly Unhaunted Place, Ghoulish Song, Nomad, and Ambassador. William studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion workshop. He teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Like the protagonist of Nomad and Ambassador, William is the son of a Latino immigrant to the US. Visit him online at WillAlex.net and GoblinSecrets.com, and on Twitter via @WillieAlex.
Kelly Murphy is a New York Times bestselling author-illustrator and recipient of the E.B. White Award. She teaches illustration at her alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design. Kelly currently lives in her native New England, surrounded by the flora and fauna featured in Together We Grow.
“Witty dialogue and interesting characters make this second installment an engaging pick, though readers should start with the first book. VERDICT Readers looking to continue with the adventures of Rosa and Jasper will be delighted with new supernatural dilemmas and dark twists.”
– School Library Journal
"Alexander’s message—that acceptance and empathy, not building walls, is the answer—will resonate."
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