I am a true sucker for middle grade books. Not only are they really great reads, but they are full of raw emotion that creates these heavy stories that are written with real heart and feelings, that sometimes can’t quite be captured in YA or adult novels because of all kinds of other things going on.
Also, it’s rare for me to give a book a 5 star rating, but The Haunted House Project deserves more than 5 stars. It deserves to be on every shelf in every library, school, and middle grade (and adult!) bookshelf. This book will teach you to appreciate what you have, and remember that your loved ones matter more than anything else.
The Haunted House Project doesn’t try to be upbeat, and it doesn’t try to cover up emotions with other things that are going on in the book. Instead, it allows the main character, and her family, to experience the pain and grief that accompanies loss. In this book, you’re going to experience these emotions right along with Andie – sadness, anger, desperation, confusion, and loneliness.
Andie is a thirteen year old girl who lost her mother. When her mother died in a car accident, her entire family and world fell apart – her big sister had to start taking extra shifts at her job as a waitress in order to help make ends meet and give Andie money to buy lunch in school, while her father is either absent most of the time – losing jobs left and right, gambling, and drinking away his emotions. The three of them feel completely lost without the glue that held the family together – and they begin to fall apart, both alone and from each other.
While she usually finds solace by being around her friends, she even notices herself drifting away from them. The things that they care about and that are important to them aren’t the same things that are important to Andie anymore – after all, their families are still the way they always were, and they’re slowly getting tired of dealing with Andie being depressed and lost without her mother.
“I’d be happy to have my mom back in any form. She doesn’t have to be a dog, even. She could be a rat, and I’d let my ghost rat follow me around. She wouldn’t have to defend me or scare people with her beady red eyes. She’d just have to hang out and whisper words of encouragement sometimes.”
When Andie pairs up with the class nerd, Isaiah, for a science project, they decide to work together on a project based on paranormal activity. This allows Andie to step outside the ghost novels she loves to read, and try to bring her family back together by convincing them that her mother’s ghost is still around and watching them – wanting them to stop living their separate lives and become a strong family again. So Andie gets to work – she sprays perfume, puts sunscreen on her sister’s purse, and even leaves messages in the steamed up mirrors in the bathroom, just so that her family might realize that they need her mother around. Andie is crushed without her…and she is tired of suffering alone…so she does what she can to make sure that her family remembers, and that they come together again.
When Andie’s friends start making fun of her for wanting to spend time with Isaiah, and their friendship deteriorates even more, Andie has to learn who her true friends are, and what’s really important to her in life. Meanwhile, Andie finds comfort in other friends – friends who care about more than just trivial things.
This book made me cry in several spots, I’m not going to lie – it’s achingly beautiful and heartfelt, and the author definitely has a flair for writing. Watching a young girl painfully deal with the loss of her mother, and without her father or big sister around most of the time to grieve with…it’s no wonder she decided to try and bring her family close together again by pretending to be her mother’s ghost and remind her family of what’s important.
In this book, Andie also comes across her mother’s journals, which allow her to get to know her mother on a more personal level. Of course, this is a bittersweet discovery for Andie, and while it is painful to read her mother’s thoughts, she also realizes that she doesn’t want to stop reading them, because it’s like she’s spending time with her mom, even though she’s gone.
(Seriously, some heartbreaking stuff here, right?)
If you’re going to read a middle grade novel this year, let it be this one. It’s sweet and full of raw emotion, and it will make you appreciate the family that you have.