This book was very different than I expected. Given the description of a book featuring a camera that can take pictures of people who aren’t there, wouldn’t you expect a scary story? After all, it is called Ghost Town. But no, there’s not a spooky page to be found in this book. This isn’t really my usual type of reading material, obviously, since I was expecting a different type of book, but Ghost Town turned out to be an excellent story. It is an irreverent, off-beat sort of tall tale, featuring well-drawn characters and an interesting plot.
Spencer Honesty and his mom are the only two people left in Paisley, Kansas. Everyone else in town has moved away, in search of better economic opportunities. Spencer’s mom is a postal worker, and is kept on by the government to sort through all the mail that continues to arrive in Paisley. To keep himself and his imaginary friend Chief Leopard Frog entertained, Spencer salvages his father’s old camera from a junk pile and spends his days taking pictures. When his pictures are developed, mixed in with his extreme close up shots of bees, are photos of Paisley’s former residents. Spencer cannot explain this phenomenon, but he does enjoy seeing his old neighbors again, particularly Maureen Balderson, his best friend’s sister.
Unfortunately, Spencer’s photography must be put on hold when he takes a fall while climbing the side of the old supermarket. He is laid up for weeks, and spends his time reading other people’s junk mail. One particular catalog sparks Spencer’s interest, Uncle Milton’s Thousand Things You Thought You’d Never Find. One of Milton’s thousand things is a ghost camera, and Spencer strikes up a correspondence with Milton when he writes to find out more about the strange object. Milton eventually agrees to publish a book of Chief Leopard Frog’s poetry, in exchange for some of the Chief’s hand carved talismans which (unbeknownst to the Chief) bring the owner bad luck. Spencer never expected a book of Native American poetry written by an imaginary friend, sold by someone as “reputable” as Uncle Milton, to be a bestseller that would send a reporter to his ghost town asking questions.
There is a lot going on in this book, but Jennings layers it all together perfectly. I particularly appreciated that Spencer is written as an intelligent young man, which is a nice change from some of the characters you find in YA literature. I wasn’t familiar with Richard W. Jennings’ work before reading this book, but now I’m anxious to see what else he has to offer.
Check the WRL catalog for Ghost Town