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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Some references to Shakespeare and places in London. Also, there's plenty of common and not-so-common ghost lore to compare with other books and movies about haunted places.
There's plenty here about learning to trust your instincts and having confidence in your abilities. Also, bravery and not giving in to fear are essential for survival in the ghost-catching business.
Positive Role Models
Lucy, Anthony Lockwood, and George are clearly very brave and resourceful to survive their dangerous profession. Anthony's very proud and full of bravado -- it helps keep him in business, but also gets him and his colleagues into trouble. Lucy's just discovering how talented she is and must learn to trust her instincts.
Violence & Scariness
The haunted scares and the descriptions of how the now-deceased, or "Visitors," died are worse than the actual injuries the trio get ghost hunting. Although there's always fear of being "ghost-touched," which causes painful swelling and then death if not treated right away. Main characters have close calls with cruel spirits (some super-creepy descriptions involving skeletal remains, curling long toenails, and blood dripping all over a room), a raging fire they must jump out a building to escape, and live people wielding guns, rapiers, and fists. Stories of other ghost hunters (all kids because only kids have "the Sight") dying on the job, two in the house Lockwood & Co. are sent to investigate and all of Lucy's young colleagues before she moved to London. A mention that Anthony's parents are probably deceased and left him the house, and that Lucy's distant father fell under a train and died. The ghosts being hunted died in many violent ways over the centuries: hangings, drownings, mass killings, torture, sacrifices, fire, murder, and much more.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mentions of a tumultuous relationship and lost love.
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"Hell," "hellish," "screwy," and talk of cursing without the words used (Lucy says, "The curse I gave would probably have curdled the milk if it hadn't been sitting out on the table for thirty-six hours already.")
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Products & Purchases
One mention of Coke.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One room in a haunted house smelled of whiskey and tobacco, and Lucy remembers her father's breath smelling of "strong brown beer." Lucy's first employer smoked heavily.
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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."
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.