School of the Dead by Avi

I’ve read and enjoyed other books by prolific children’s author Avi, but none were remotely like this horror story of a boy named Tony who sees ghosts or maybe zombies (although they are never called that), lots of them. It’s certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like horror and occultic elements, you’ll want to skip this story. But if you’re a fan of Hitchcock movies and paranormal fantasy, School of the Dead fits right into the Halloween genre and the Halloween season.

Twelve year old Tony has a weird uncle, Great Uncle Charlie, the kind of guy everyone asks about, saying, “What’s the deal with him anyway? How come Uncle Charlie is so weird?” The answer: “Every family has a weird uncle.” When Uncle Charlie moves in with Tony and his parents, however, Tony finds out that Uncle Charlie is really a great guy, lots of fun. And when Uncle Charlie dies, Tony is devastated. The only thing that Tony looks forward to is his transfer to Penda School, the school in San Francisco that Uncle Charlie graduated from and recommended to Tony.

From the time that Tony enters Penda School, things get really weird. No spoilers, but the plot involves voodoo, haunted corridors, secret rooms, zombie-like creatures, and soul-snatching. And it all takes place on and around Halloween. Again, it’s pretty creepy, and Tony has a hard time deciding whom to trust—or whether there’s anyone he can trust. His parents are suitably, for a scary story, useless and oblivious. In fact, all of the adults in the story are either part of the evil weirdness or else ineffectual and unhelpful.

The story is well written, as would be expected in the hands of such a veteran author, and Tony is a frustrating but understandable character who does all the things the reader would tell him not to do in a horror novel. He opens the door he shouldn’t open, drops the flashlight, shuts himself up in dark places, listens to the bad guys, fails to trust the good guys, etc. etc. But as the narrative progresses, he seems less stupid and more just trapped in an overwhelmingly evil place with an entire contingent of soul-sucking monsters.

Read it only if you’re immune to horror-induced nightmares.

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