Saturday, October 14, 2023

Today's read... The Bellwoods Game by Celia Krampien

by Celia Krampien
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Middle Grade Horror
320 pages
ages 8 to 12

Perfect for fans of Small Spaces and Doll Bones , this spooky, highly illustrated middle grade novel follows a girl who hopes to fix her outcast status through a game in the haunted woods, only to discover that some legends shouldn’t be played with.

Everyone knows Fall Hollow is haunted. It has been ever since Abigail Snook went into the woods many years ago, never to be seen again. Since then, it’s tradition for the sixth graders at Beckett Elementary to play the Bellwoods Game on Halloween night. Three kids are chosen to go into the woods. Whoever rings the bell there wins the game and saves the town for another year, but if Abigail’s ghost captures the players first, the spirit is let loose to wreak havoc on Fall Hollow—or so the story goes.

Now that it’s Bailee’s year to play, she can finally find out what really happens. And legend has it the game’s winner gets a wish. Maybe, just maybe, if Bailee wins, she can go back to the way things used to be before her grandma got sick and everyone at school started hating her. But when the night begins, everything the kids thought they knew about the game—and each other—is challenged. One thing’s for something sinister is at play…waiting for them all in the woods.

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Spooks and chills mix with a forest adventure and games to create a gripping read.

Myths are nothing uncommon in the small town, but Bailee is especially drawn to the one surrounding a missing girl, a bell, and the forest. Each year, the sixth grade goes to the forest to play 'the game', where a winner needs to ring the bell to keep the town safe for the next year. It's just legend. Supposedly. Bailee knows more than most thanks to her grandmother and is ready to take on whatever the forest may hold...and maybe, she'll no longer be the class outcast if she manages to win.

The book starts out with the tale of Abigail, which lays the foundation for Bailee's adventures and sets a the tone to launch the myth. The next chapters allow Bailee and her friends to gain personality and dig in at a personal level. Then, as the game gets flowing, the spooks sink in and offer all the wonderful ghosts and scares that make a perfect read to cuddle up with under the blankets with a flashlight. And don't forget that flashlight. While it did have me wondering for more than a few chapters if there would be 'real' ghosts or not, when the thrilling parts begin, they do it in all the right ways.

I especially enjoyed the illustrations. These are abundantly sprinkled in the pages and add to the atmosphere, while offering more to the reading fun. I do wish that more middle grade (and adult?) novels would incorporate these like this.

There are also messages in these pages, but these do not smoother the creepier excitement. While there, it's the spook and chills which lead this plot and make it a fun read. I do recommend this one to those who enjoy a bit of school drama and a heavy mix of ghostly adventure mixed in.

And here she is...

Celia Krampien grew up in a house in the woods in a small town near Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. She studied illustration at Sheridan College and currently lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with her partner, a mischievous cat, and a nosy beagle. She is the author of The Bellwoods Game.

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