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Archimancy: Shadow School, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Archimancy: Shadow School, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Heart, suspense abound in spooky middle school ghost story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of vocabulary-building words, like "tessellated," "triangulated," "crestfallen." Local detail about New Hampshire, including the White Mountains and other scenic attractions.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of friendship, kindness, teamwork, diversity, courage, and persistence, and quick thinking. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cordelia, Agnes, and Benji are all different (Cordelia's tenacious, observant, and kind; Agnes is shy and brilliant; Benji takes on a lot of burdens to protect his hardworking parents and care for his younger siblings). And they're relatable as they come to terms with their haunted school and the occasional bumps in the road in their growing friendship: "So we can't be friends with people who are different than us?" asks Benji when Cordelia and Agnes are on the outs. "Bummer. Because I'm Peruvian and you're half-Chinese. Guess this friendship's over." Amid a lot of mysterious or downright creepy adults, the elder Lius are models of responsible parenting, as, when Cordelia says she hates her school and her parents can't make her go back, her mom says cheerfully, "Sure we can. We're your parents. Making you do things is basically our job description."

Violence

The whole premise of Archimancy involves some ghosts being trapped in a building where they're preyed upon by other ghosts, who use fiendish implements to strip away parts of their victims' life force till they vanish into nothingness, instead of moving on to their next destination (which is happy for some, not so much for the evil ones). A tween trapped overnight in the haunted school witnesses all this and later is captured by one of the evil ghosts, who tries to kill her. Some humans are in cahoots with the evil ghosts, and it's not clear who deserves trust. The death of a character's beloved wife in the early 1900s leads to his obsession with ghosts, with many consequences. An adult character threatens a kid with dire consequences to the kid's family if she doesn't do what the adult wants. A skeleton turns up in a hidden room.

Sex

Eleven-year-old Cordelia is mortified when adults keep telling her how cute Benji is and implying they're an item.

Language

Occasional reference to "screwing up."

Consumerism

Occasional product mentions, e.g. Chromebook, Instagram, for scene setting.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Archimancy is the first volume of the middle-grade Shadow School series by Thickety author J.A. White. It's a tale of three 11-year-olds in a New Hampshire middle school that's packed to the rafters with ghosts, which only two of the kids can see. Most of the ghosts are innocent folks, like a crying boy and a man trying to read a newspaper, but evil ones steal the other ghosts' life force with cruel and creepy instruments. The kids are determined to help the innocent ghosts, and not at all sure which adults they can trust. Along the way they face dangers, imprisonments, cosmic voids, and more. Kindness, friendship, teamwork, and courage prove to be strong weapons against the dark forces as mysteries are solved, spirits sent on their way, and the stage is set for further adventures in volumes to come.

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What's the story?

As ARCHIMANCY opens, 11-year-old Cordelia Liu isn't too happy at being uprooted from California and moved to New Hampshire due to her dad's job. And she's even less happy about Shadow School, her new middle school, which instead of being in a normal school building is in an old Victorian mansion built by the late architect Elias Sparrow. She's not wrong to be creeped out, as she soon realizes the place is packed with ghosts, and only she and her classmate Benji can see them. Not only that, the ghosts -- especially the crying little boy -- seem to need help. But as Cordelia, Benji, and their brilliant, shy friend Agnes try to assist, they have to work their way around adults who don't believe in ghosts, ghosts preying on other ghosts, and difficulties in sorting out whom to trust.

Is it any good?

J.A. White's series opener about tween friends in a haunted middle school features plenty of imaginatively creepy moments, engaging characters, and mystery. As tweens Cordelia, Benji, and Agnes delve into the past try to help the distressed ghostly people they meet, there's suspense, googling, and quite a few poignant moments as stories unfold. There's also plenty of affectionate, supportive, no-nonsense parenting and relatable character development as Cordelia starts feeling more at home in New Hampshire. Archimancy features a modest Hogwarts-style roster of characters we'll be seeing a lot more of as the Shadow School series continues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ghost stories like Archimancy: Shadow School, Book 1.Why do you think stories about ghosts are so popular, and always have been? Do you have any favorites? Do you like scary stories, or do you prefer the friendly ghost type?

  • Have you ever had to move away from the place you lived and the school you went to and start over somewhere else? How did you feel? Was it fun? Scary?

  • The kids in Archimancy start out not having a lot in common, but wind up being great friends anyway. Do you and your friends share a lot of the same interests, or are you into different things?

Book details

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