Brand new review: Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

By Ekta R. Garg

September 18, 2019

Genre: middle grade ghost story

Release date: August 27, 2019

Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it! / 3.5 stars

When three best friends find themselves in a place haunted by ghosts, they’ll have to work together to save themselves and the adults with them. If they don’t, they’ll become ghosts too and their loved ones will forget they ever even existed. Author Katherine Arden brings back her fearless trio in the mostly solid novel Dead Voices.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian know all about adventure. They survived one during their class trip in the fall when they escaped the scarecrows and their creepy leader who tried to force the trio to join his legion of straw people. If they never have another adventure like that again, it’ll be too soon.

That’s why a trip to a new ski resort during winter break sounds like the perfect getaway. Ollie’s dad won the getaway at work, and he, Ollie, Coco, Coco’s mom, and Brian are chugging along through the snow to the resort. Even before they arrive, however, Coco starts to get weird vibes from the place. She could have sworn she saw a person standing in the middle of the road on the drive to the resort, but when Ollie’s dad stops the car no one’s there.

Ollie and Brian try to reassure Coco that everything’s fine, but she’s not so sure. The fact that the power is out at the resort doesn’t make any of them feel better. Then Ollie starts having nightmares about young girls with messages none of them understand. Brian keeps insisting that the preserved animals in the lobby are changing positions—sometimes they’re standing, sometimes they’re on all fours. Sometimes they’re glaring right at the kids.

An unexpected guest, Mr. Voland, comes to the resort talking about hunting ghosts. The power is still out and the generator doesn’t work, and he thinks it’s the work of the ghosts that haunt the resort. He convinces the three friends that the only way to make things right is to find the ghosts and communicate with them.

Coco doesn’t like the sound of any of it; Brian is flat out skeptical. But Ollie becomes obsessed with the idea. What if Mr. Voland can help her talk to her mom? She wavers then agrees to Mr. Voland’s plan—and that’s when the three of them really get into trouble. If they want to escape the resort and go home with their loved ones, they’ll have to think on their feet. They’ve done it once before, but none of them know if they’ll have the capacity to do it again.

Author Katherine Arden brings back her three beloved characters for another ghost story that will make target readers and adults alike shiver. The story starts on a foreboding note and continues to build in intensity. Arden lets the tension increase until readers become just as worried as the main characters about what will happen next.

Arden excels in building the emotions of the middle schoolers. Their concern and compassion for one another shine, but Arden also lets them be real friends. They disagree with one another, make mistakes, and doubt each other’s opinions all while keeping the foundation of their friendship strong.

If the book exhibits any weaknesses, it’s in the fact that Ollie and Coco both get the opportunity to share their stories firsthand while Brian doesn’t. Considering that he is just as important to the trio of best friends as the girls, it’s surprising that readers never hear directly from him. Also, during the climax of the book, Brian fades into the background for a handful of pages. The explanation he offers when he reappears doesn’t ring wholly true to the story at hand. The plot would have felt more three-dimensional had Arden offered readers the chance, even a handful of times, to let Brian lead in the storytelling.

As with her previous book Small Spaces, the friendships take center stage here and cover the weak spots. In the end, readers will find themselves breathing a sigh of relief and then wishing for more books about Ollie, Coco, and Brian, if only to give Brian the chance to share a story about him. Fans of Small Spaces will most certainly enjoy this one. That’s why I say Dead Voices Borders on Bookmarking it!

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