By Ekta R. Garg
June 19, 2019
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Release date: March 5, 2019
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
Three siblings run into ghosts and mayhem during their vacation. What starts as a venture into the unknown turns into a rescue mission when a ghost wants to adopt one of them. The three will have to trust one another’s special talents if they want to make it back home without losing anyone. Author Heather Shumaker gives readers a warm, sweet story about the sibling bond and spooks her target audience without truly frightening them in the charming novel The Griffins of Castle Cary.
Meg, Will, and Ariel Griffin have just arrived in the town of Castle Cary in Somerset, England. While their parents attend a geology conference in another part of the country, the Griffin children get to spend the week with Aunt Effie and her brown Newfoundland, whom she affectionately calls Uncle Ben. Meg and Will, less than a year apart in age at 11 and 10, hope that Aunt Effie will take on the task of entertaining Ariel. Their five-year-old sister is sweet but definitely a handful.
The children settle into the Griffinage, the name of Aunt Effie’s house, with ease, but soon enough they discover that the sleepy little town of Castle Cary isn’t quite so dull. On their first morning in the Griffinage, they meet Aunt Effie’s neighbor, Shep, handyman extraordinaire, computer programmer, and local ghost expert. He tells the siblings about Mendip Manor, an old home with its very own ghost story about a young child who died and the mother whose ghost still mourns her.
Meg and Will don’t seem too keen on meeting ghosts, although talking about them is fun. Ariel, on the other hand, seems to get inspired by Shep’s story. She tells her older brother and sister that she’s made a new friend. The older kids assume Ariel’s talking about another imaginary playmate and brush off her announcement.
Then Ariel begins acting strangely. Will starts getting hiccups at the most awful times. Meg keeps waking up with a weird prickly feeling. They see mysterious lights, and Will keeps hearing bells when none are actually ringing. The Griffinage, too, starts falling apart, and pretty soon Meg and Will come to an alarming conclusion: one of the ghosts from the manor is trying to get their attention. More importantly, it’s trying to get Ariel and keep her for good.
With their wit and their smarts, the two older siblings work out a plan to save Ariel and try to help the ghost at the same time. They’re racing against the clock, though. The young ghost’s birthday is coming up, and neither Meg nor Will think she’ll be willing to let it pass without accomplishing her goal of taking Ariel away from them.
Author Heather Shumaker builds a warm relationship between the siblings full of realistic moments as well as tender ones. As the older children and so close in age, Meg and Will get along better with one another and understand each other better than they do their much younger sister. Ariel’s observations on how her big sister and brother would rather run off together than play with her hits the mark, but so does the worry Meg and Will experience when they realize the ghost is targeting Ariel.
Shumaker does a wonderful job retaining Ariel’s innocence. She’s a smart girl and uses her own common sense at times, but she also approaches life—and the ghost who befriends her—with eyes wide open. Readers will find her endearing, possibly the most of the three (although at times it may be hard to make a choice.)
While the story takes its time to build, once the events get moving Shumaker keeps them doing so with chain-reaction timing. Readers more accustomed to action-packed book openings will need to stay patient, but their patience is rewarded later. Shumaker also finds a way to work in Uncle Ben in a manner that is funny and incredible without pushing the boundaries of disbelief too much. Families and target readers with dogs will love him and the way he insists on running back to save the kids time and time again.
In the end, the love and affection Meg, Will, and Ariel share shines brighter than everything else and will make readers smile. The book provides a satisfying conclusion to the premise proposed, but readers may come away hoping for more from the Griffin siblings. Those wanting a sweet story about sibling love that triumphs above all else will enjoy this book. I recommend readers Bookmark it!