What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the publisher's recommended age for Jonathan Stroud's The Screaming Staircase is 8-12, but this nearly 400-page ghost-hunting mystery feels like a better fit for kids just getting into young adult literature: 11 and up. And readers must like scary stuff, or forget them sleeping in their own room with the lights off for quite some time. The main young-teen characters in The Screaming Staircase are very resourceful, very brave ghost hunters (only kids have "the Sight") and inhabit a world where ghosts are nearly everywhere, putting people in danger every night (a "ghost-touch" is painful and can be fatal). There are some super-creepy descriptions involving skeletal remains and a ghost making it appear that blood's dripping all over the room. As it gets darker, the presence and malevolence of ghosts get stronger and one of the characters has a sense of how and why particular ghosts died (always violently). The teen ghost hunters are threatened by the living as well, encountering rapiers, fists, and gunfire. All other content is pretty mild, with language no stronger than "hellish" and "screwy."
What's the story?
Right after Lucy gets a job as a ghost-hunting agent with Lockwood & Co., things start to go pretty wrong. She and her new boss, Anthony Lockwood, accidentally set fire to a client's house when they forget their protective iron chains and are forced to fight off a dangerous Type 2 Visitor with Greek Fire to save their lives. The owners want them to pay up, or else their three-person agency -- the only one in London run completely by teens -- will get shut down immediately. As Lockwood looks for a way to make some quick money, Lucy and her special talent for understanding ghosts' thoughts comes in handy. Before their client's house goes up in flames, she learns that it's the site of a murder unsolved for 50 years. Lockwood takes the story to the press and, bingo, a new, high-profile client comes knocking. He'll pay their debts, but only if they spend the night in the most haunted place imaginable, an ancient monastery famous for a certain Screaming Staircase.
Is it any good?
Get out your iron chains and metal filings and lavender and whatever other ghost wards you can think of before you open THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE. This is scary stuff! And great fun for kids who are really ready for it. (Not 8-year-olds -- geez, publishers. This is not Goosebumps. And that's definitely a compliment.) Rooms look like they're oozing blood, ghosts with curling toenails come at teens ready to give them the dreaded "ghost-touch," and, yes, a staircase really screams in a super creepy old monastery. Let's all stay the night!
Even without the scares all the other elements are there to make a fabulous mystery. Mainly the three teen ghost hunters; all very talented, especially Lucy, who narrates. And there's Lockwood, full of pride, smarts, cheeky remarks, and bravado, giving off a definite Sherlock Holmes vibe. You never know what's going to happen with the dreaded locket until the end, and they never even get to the source of the Problem: why is the world suddenly full of dangerous Visitors? Readers will have to throw on the iron chains and crack open the sequel to find out.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about being scared. Did you ever have to put this book down at night? What makes it scary? Is there anyone in your family who doesn't like scary stories?
If you had Lucy's or Anthony's talents and your town faced "the Problem," would you take their dangerous job? How do their skills help them overcome their on-the-job fears?
The Screaming Staircase is the first in a series. What do you think will happen next? How do you think "the Problem" started?