I was in a quirky kind of mood the day I saw the book cover for On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by award-winning author Candace Fleming. Yep, I fell for another book cover. As it turns out, this is a fun, quirky book filled with YA ghost stories. Maybe I should have saved this one for late October but I couldn’t resist sharing it with you now. Some of these stories are a bit macabre and some are funny but I don’t think any fall in the die-hard horror category.
Maybe this looks like an unusual vacation read but I think it’s entertaining enough to qualify, especially since the stories are short enough to make it a good book to read in fits and spurts between summer fun activities. This one is suitable for tweens and younger teens as well as older ones, and adults who enjoy light reads.
There is an overarching storyline, featuring Mike Kowalski, within which all of the short stories fit. I’m not going to tell you what it is because it’s a fairly common cheesy ghost story (at least where I grew up) and it will spoil the fun if you know the set-up for this one. Let’s just say that Mike ends up in a graveyard and is forced by the teen ghosts there to hear the stories of how they died. Will he survive the night?
“’Go ahead,’ came a voice from the shadows.
‘Tell him,’ urged another.
The girl turned toward Mike, and she smiled uncertainly. ‘We want to tell you our stories,’ she said, ‘Our death stories.’
The Roster of Ghost Storytellers:
Johnnie (1920-1936) Johnnie was a thief – a pickpocket. To be fair, he does it so he can survive. He and his teacher, Miss Bolam, have a hate-hate relationship. Still one day she inspired him with an idea about where he could steal things and no one would be the wiser. Unfortunately, he hadn’t counted on his victim having the last laugh at his expense.
“She brought down her ruler, slicing it through the air like one of them guillotines she was always talking about. It smashed my knuckles, bruising bones and breaking skin…When she finished, she leaned in close. ‘Have you learned your lesson, Mr. Novotny?’
I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of an answer. But as she walked away, I vowed under my breath, ‘I’ll get even with you. Just you wait.’”
Scott (1995-2012) Scott loved taking photographs and got the brilliant idea to do a series on mortality featuring the crumbling Chicago State Asylum as his subject. He would prove there was no such thing as ghosts. He figured he’d get an A+ easily for this art project. What he hadn’t taken into account was what he would find in the asylum.
“’You’re kidding, right?’ said Aidan, after I told him my idea. ‘That place rates like a two hundred on the haunt-o-meter!’
I knew the stories, of course. Everyone in my neighborhood knew them. Stories of flickering lights; of crazed disembodied laughter and shrieking; of the occasional trespasser seeing moving shadows and floating orbs.
‘It’s all crap, Aidan,’ I said. ‘Come with me and I’ll prove it to you.’
‘No way am I going poking around in there. And you shouldn’t either…’”
Rich (1965-1981) Kev and Rich went to a junkyard to find some parts they needed for Kev’s old car. What they found instead was a hood ornament from an old Packard hearse. It was really sweet and Kev decided he had to have it, so they stole it. Neither of them had ever done anything like that before and it left them a little shaken. What was even weirder was that Kev, who had always driven like a little ol’ granny headed for church, suddenly became a speed demon who took enormous risks. Soon all he did was drive and Rich became really worried about him – and that’s when Rich made a fatal mistake.
“That’s when I saw the hood ornament, its flawless chrome glowing bright against the rusting skeleton of a Packard hearse…Kev saw it too, and he gave a little gasp. Walking over with exaggerated casualness, he picked it up. I know it’s weird, but for a second he looked like he was holding a ball of fire, like the thing might actually scorch his hands. Its glow lit up his face, spotlighting the smile forming on his lips.”
Candace Fleming was inspired to write these ghost stories by her mother, who loved to tell her ghost stories. What she says below about her mother’s stories is what made ghost stories so scary and fun for me when I was growing up too, and always made me wonder if those stories just might be real. I still get the shivers when I think about some of them!
“Years later I realized that her stories, like most ghost stories, were inspired by memory and myth – by local legend and folklore, and by spooky stories told around the campfire. But above all, they were inspired by truth – by nearby places, real-life people, actual events. This connection with facts and history made her stories real…and real creepy! Fantasy suddenly became possibility.”
The characters in On the Day I Died are very well drawn and believable, so I got sucked in almost immediately. I’ll admit that I had to get past the cheesy main storyline and into the short stories first; however, once I did, I was hooked. Obviously these are not stories that are going to keep adults up at night checking for closeted hobgoblins or serial killers but they still make for a very fun read for anyone who likes ghost stories, no matter what your age.
Can’t wait to read it?
On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave was published on July 10, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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