As a book reviewer for teachers and librarians, I need to separate my personal opinions from my purchasing opinions. I might not have a taste for werewolf romances or far-fetched boy next door melodrama, but if I think my readers will like it, I have a reason to buy it.

I feel that way about Graveyard Shakes, which is a serviceable, if unsatisfying, middle-grade horror piece. The story follows two sisters, Katia and Victoria, who have received scholarships to the prestigious and stuffy Bexley Academy. Katia sees herself as a “lone wolf” and is delighted by her eccentricity, while Victoria is desperate to fit in, even though her sartorial choices and lack of athleticism make that goal difficult.

Katia disappears as a big storm is coming, and Victoria goes on a search for her sister that leads her to the grounds of Bexley Academy. At the graveyard, the evil Nikola (I see what you did there) is looking to feed his child, Modie, another child’s soul to keep Modie alive for another 13 years. Nikola has found his next victim in Katia, but Victoria goes on a mission to help save her sister.

Some of this book’s most valuable moments are undermined by the crowded plot and the desire to keep the story moving at all costs. We have elegant insights into characters, like Modie’s uncomfortable realization that his life comes at the expense of another’s death, and a terrific scene where Katia makes terribly messy fun with her newfound ghost friends. With the story not lingering on these moments, I’m afraid that younger readers are going to rush through them. I also think that a less crowded plot could have heightened the creep factor on this one. As it is, this book is about as creepy as a plastic jack-o-lantern on post-holiday clearance sale at Walgreens.

Despite its weaknesses, I think young readers are going to find this book relatable and compelling. They’ll like watching the strange sisters at school and they’ll enjoy the suspense of the chase and the lessons they learn about friendship and companionship. They’ll also be satisfied with their ability to read this book in a sitting and feel it to be complete. Some readers may find the jumps between Nikola/Modie in the graveyard and Katia/Victoria at school difficult, because those jumps come unannounced, but I think the simplicity of the story will help fill in the possible comprehension gap.

The artwork here is also notable: Terry does an excellent job with the expressive, inviting curves of her characters, both the human and the supernatural ones. The palette is in inviting pastel watercolors, and the simplicity of motion from panel to panel and the short, uncluttered dialogue is crucial for less experienced readers.

I’ve come to trust the Scholastic Graphix imprint for applying a similar philosophy to graphic novels as it does to its full-text books and its Book Fairs—that is, designing books with young audience appeal in mind first. I commend Graphix for picking up titles like these and I hope they continue to publish the kinds of graphic novels that go like popcorn into young readers’ hands.

Graveyard Shakes
by Laura Terry
ISBN: 9780545889551
Scholastic, Graphix, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: (8-12)

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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