Joyce McDonald, . . Delacorte, $15.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32659-9

On the night that a horde of peepers disgorge themselves from local streams into the town of Bellehaven, "shrieking like souls of the dead disturbed from their slumber," a teenage computer whiz named Simon crashes his car into a landmark, the Liberty Tree. Crows descend next, to consume the dead frogs, and a number of portentous plagues follow—metaphoric indicators that the bucolic community is not what it seems. Simon, who has been hacking into the school's computer system to help a group of popular teenagers cheat on their exams, falls into a coma. His stupor is punctured by a series of dreamlike encounters with the ghost of the legendary murderer who was hanged from the Liberty Tree 100 years ago. Was he really as guilty as everyone thought he was? And will Simon's accident catalyze the popular girl with a guilty conscience into renouncing her ill-won college acceptance? Readers may wonder why the police would get involved with a case of high school cheating, and it's hard to believe that these students could fool their teachers. But Simon—though forced to share space with a number of less-appealing protagonists, including a shallow, pot-smoking younger sister and a stupid, ambitious jock—is a thoughtful, interesting character. McDonald (Shadow People; Swallowing Stones) paints an eerie, electric atmosphere of menace that lingers past the final page. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)