cover image The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto

The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto

Adrianna Cuevas. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-39043-3

Ten-year-old Cuban American Rafa Alvarez and his friends Beto and Yesi, who are obsessed with the fantasy tabletop role-playing game The Forgotten Age, take the adventure out of doors and into the real world in this boisterous telling by Cuevas (Cuba in My Pocket). When a prank they pull as part of their game goes wrong, Rafa’s father sends him from Florida to New Mexico, to spend a month helping Marcus Coleman, an old college friend, run Rancho Espanto—Terror Ranch. There, Rafa meets Marcus, a Black Army veteran turned barn manager, and affable Korean American Jennie Kim, the snack-obsessed daughter of the local librarian. Rafa slowly acclimates to the ranch’s sedate lifestyle, which helps him process his mother’s worsening cancer. But a stranger in a green jacket, believing the ranch to be haunted, pressures him to leave, even going so far as to frame Rafa for vandalism around the ranch, which puts the youth at odds with his new friends. Via Rafa’s vulnerable first-person narration, Cuevas crafts a whirlwind mystery populated by a compassionate community of lovable characters with effervescent personalities, to explore themes of grief, healing, and PTSD with tenderness and well-timed humor. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)