Dead Voices by Katherine Arden; G.P. Putnam's Sons, 256 pages ($16.99) Ages 10 and up.
The three friends who survived an encounter with menacing scarecrows and the nasty smiling man in "Small Spaces" return for an equally scary adventure in this thrilling, pitch-perfect follow-up, as Katherine Arden once again shows herself to be the master of the horror story for middle-grade readers.
As the novel begins, Olivia Adler, her widowed father, her friends Coco and Brian and Coco's mother are traveling up a mountain through a terrible snowstorm for a free ski weekend Mr. Adler won at newly opened ski lodge, Mount Hemlock Resort. The isolated setting is truly creepy: the nearly empty ski lodge, occupying what used to be an orphanage, the walls full of mounted animal heads and complete figures of bears and coyotes, on a lonely mountain in the middle of a blinding snowstorm.
A stranger arrives, identifying himself as a journalist with an interest in ghosts, and tells the children and their parents and the lodge owners of the rumors of ghosts that haunt the lodge, a legacy of its orphanage days when it was run by cruel Mother Hemlock. Of course, as the snow continues to fall, the power goes out.
The three friends are determined not to be spooked by their surroundings and try to be good sports about being snowed in even though Coco saw a ghostly figure on the entrance road and Olivia has nightmares of frozen girls in white pleading for help. In "Small Spaces," Olivia was able to communicate with her dead mother through her mother's watch. The watch is in play again, along with a Ouija board and an old lamp, as the children find themselves in grave danger. Arden offers a well-plotted tale, thrilling suspense, a terrifying setting and a bracing tale of friendship as the three call on their individual strengths to save each other.
Best Friends by Shannon Hale, artwork by LeUyen Pham; First Second Books, 240 pages ($12.99); Guts by Raina Telgemeier; Scholastic, 211 pages ($12.99) Ages 8 to 12.
Two shining lights in children's publishing have published excellent graphic novel memoirs dealing with their own pre-adolescent battles with anxiety, something an untold number of children suffer in silence.
In this entertaining followup to "Real Friends," acclaimed children's author Shannon Hale explores her battle with anxiety, without referring to it as such, through her rocky experience in sixth grade, navigating friendship issues and what it means to be popular. Red-haired Shannon wears glasses and loves books and writing stories but is plagued with worries about fitting in, making friends and not looking weird. She finds herself constantly uneasy around the other girls, who are obsessed with what's cool, constantly getting mad at each other or ostracizing someone. (In one amusing bit, Shannon, feeling left out when the conversation turns to popular TV shows of the day, like "The A-Team" or "Simon & Simon," convinces her parents to let her watch TV on school nights as "homework" so she can keep up with her friends.) Body image and the culture's limited expectations for girls are among the topics addressed; the 1986 Challenger explosion looms large.
Shannon wonders whether it's OK to be friends with boys and is uncomfortable when classmates are mean or select someone to pick on, fearing she will be next. Through finding a sympathetic teacher, and with the help of her love of writing, Shannon is able eventually to strike out on her own path. Hale interweaves her memoir with panels from a fairy tale she wrote in sixth grade featuring a red-haired alter-ego, also beautifully illustrated with artwork by LeUyen Pham. Hale includes a helpful note at the end encouraging young readers to talk to someone if they suffer from anxiety as she did.
Kids can suffer anxiety at early ages, as acclaimed graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier demonstrates in her revelatory memoir "Guts," starting with young Raina experiencing her first anxiety-induced upset stomach, actually a panic attack, at the age of nine. (The author of excellent graphic novels "Drama" and "Sisters," Telgemeier shared the misery of her preadolescent orthodontia experience in "Smile.") Dedicated to "anyone who feels afraid," "Guts" refers to "it takes guts to face your fears."
As Raina deals with increasingly obsessive worries about school, changing friendships and food (terrified of throwing up in school, she begs to stay at home), she finds relief when her parents take her to a therapist. Raina eventually gives a class presentation on "Mind and Body," teaching her classmates breathing techniques to calm their fears. Telgemeier's greatest takeaway might be that seeing a therapist is perfectly normal, a valuable message for kids and their parents. She, too, offers a helpful author's note about her lifelong battle with stomachaches and anxiety.