Steinbeck's Ghost



A rare treat for young book lovers.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Travis lies to his parents and friends, but comes clean afterwards and apologizes.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable

References to phone and cereal brands.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink whiskey and smoke pipes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there is little here of concern: The main character lies to his parents and friend, but apologizes later, and there are a few product mentions, and references to whiskey and pipes.

What's the story?

Ever since they moved into a fancy gated community in Salinas, the birthplace of John Steinbeck, and his parents started working late all the time, Travis has been lonely and unhappy. When he breaks his parents' rules and bikes to his old neighborhood library, he discovers that it is slated for closure due to budget cuts. At the same time he begins seeing people around town whom he believes to be characters from John Steinbeck's books, and someone is appearing in the attic window of Steinbeck's old house, which is now a museum. Soon elements of Steinbeck's own life and books seem to be guiding him to one last mystery that the great author left behind.

Is it any good?


This book won't be to every child's taste, but if you know any truly book-loving children, make sure they get their hands on it -- it's a rare treat.

Authors, it goes without saying, are almost by definition booklovers. And many of them have tried to express that love of books in their own work (see Other Choices below for some good examples). Often this leads them down the path of the grandly fantastic, in which people magically enter the books they are reading. Rarely has it worked the other way, where characters from their books enter their own lives. And almost never in the small, subtle ways they do here. This is an author who doesn't think you have to call in the big special effects to dramatize the wonder of books -- they do it all by themselves, in the myriad ways they move and change us.

In this unusual novel, reading and talking about books and thinking about them and going to the library are the adventures. It begins when Travis steps out of his new house in the planned subdivision with identical houses, and realizes he's in Camazotz. If you don't get that reference, put down the computer right now and get yourself a copy of A Wrinkle in Time . It's not necessary to have read Steinbeck, or any of the many other books referenced in the story, to understand and enjoy this, but familiarity certainly enhances the pleasure. 


From the Book

Travis looked at the stack of books on his desk. These were his new life, his real life. A Wrinkle in Time led him to the library. Which led him to Corral de Tierra, which led him to The Pastures of Heaven, which led him to The Long Valley. And these books led him to the other mysteries that surrounded him -- Gitano and the Watchers and Steinbeck's ghost -- led him deeper into a world he never suspected.

Books could do that to you. When you read, the world really did change. He understood this now. You saw parts of the world you never knew existed. Books were in the world; the world was in books.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the place of books in our lives. Do they have the effect on you that they have on the characters in this book? What books have had the most impact in your life? What about libraries -- do they have a place in your life? Why or why not?

Book details

Author:Lewis Buzbee
Genre:Literary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:September 1, 2008
Number of pages:343
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14

This review of Steinbeck's Ghost was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 14 years old Written byavidcritc January 10, 2009


I read the glowing csm review and I was so excited when I found this in my library's new arrival section. I love to read, and it sounded great. But to my disgust, it was a pretty typical story, written clumsily, and with stilted dialogue and thought processes. Definitely nothing to rave about.
Kid, 9 years old May 14, 2009


I liked this book. It was not the best but it was a good book and I enjoyed it. I think this is a good book for 10 year olds if they are fast readers, otherwise I think this book is more appropriate if you are 12 years old. A boy might like this book better if he likes reading because he might be able to relate to it better than a girl or a boy who does not like reading.


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