Friday, August 28, 2009

Ghost Letters by Stephen Alter

2008 Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children's Books

I cant figure out if I am going crazy and can no longer comprehend things the way I used to or children's books are becoming much more complicated than I remember. Over the course of this woefully short, and woefully cold, summer I have read a number of books which took a dictionary and multiple readings to understand. Either the characters are too quirky to be relateable or the situations are so implausible that it just makes me want to put the book in the incinerator.
GHOST LETTERS started out extremely difficult to read. The book is about a boy named Gil who gets sent to his grandfathers house for a few weeks. He meets a girl named Nargis and together they find have to deliver undelivered letters to people in times past so that unfortunate happenings don't occur. Sound good, right? Sounds like fun. It is fun, if you can get past the first 30 pages. The story jumps around too much and throws characters around so that it is hard to keep track of what is going on and who is doing what.And there are some characters and events that are completely extraneous and could be removed totally from the book without making any difference to the story's flow. But once you get past the introductory pages the book develops a fast and entertaining pace.
I really did enjoy this book. The characters were realistic and relateable. The plot was good science fiction, with the right blend of real history and a little bit of magic. The book had a few spooky moments that will give you a few chills but not enough to give anyone a nightmare.
PS. I absolutely adore children's books that glorify the ancient art of letter writing. I wish more people took the time to write letters and feel the joy of receiving one in the mail. I think that this book will spark an interest in letter writing for some fortunate reader.

Other Reviews:

From School Library Journal: Grade 4–7—Gil, 14, has been expelled from school and sent to the Massachusetts coast to reside with his poetry-loving, eccentric grandfather. The old man doesn't own a television, uses a typewriter, drives a beat-up Volkswagen, and can only offer his grandson a 30-year-old bicycle as transportation. While walking his grandfather's dog, Gil decides to explore Rattle Beach. A curious-looking bottle floating in the water attracts his attention. For a joke, he pens a distress call, places it inside the empty container, and throws it back into the water. Returning later, he finds the bottle again and discovers an urgent message inside it. It is from Sikander, a boy from India who is living 100 years in the past, when a war is brewing. As the two boys continue to correspond, Sikander's family gets into a deadly situation and he begs Gil for help. Other paranormal events include a ghostly mailman, a skeletal hand, a djinn (or genie), and a love affair that spans the centuries. It appears that the events are interrelated, but the teen is not sure how. Readers will empathize with the plight of the characters, but a favorite of many kids, the genie, is not well developed. Also, a few of the plot threads are not fleshed out, but even so, readers will find the book scary enough to thrill and clever enough to challenge their deductive reasoning.—Robyn Gioia, Bolles School, Ponte Vedra, FL Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist: Alter’s multi stranded tale offers something for almost every fan of non heroic fantasy—from magic and time travel to a ghost, buried treasure, and a grisly severed hand with an agenda. Staying temporarily with his grandfather in a Massachusetts coastal town, Gil and new friend Nargis, a local age-mate of Indian descent, find an antique bottle that carries messages back and forth through time. Soon they are corresponding with a nineteenth-century calligrapher’s apprentice in India, whose own friend has been nabbed by deserters from a threatening British force. Enter a ghostly Massachusetts postman, wearily carrying never-delivered letters that can save the kidnapped lad, avert the battle, and rekindle a century-old romance on Gil’s side of the world. So much is going on here that when a bureaucratic British genie wheels in toward the end to deliver the old letters at Gil’s command, it’s hardly surprising. Nonetheless, Alter juggles the elements (and more besides!) with reasonable expertise, and readers who can readily suspend their disbelief will enjoy the show. Grades 5-8. --John Peters

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