cover image Backyard Ghost CL

Backyard Ghost CL

Lynn Cullen. Clarion Books, $13.95 (149pp) ISBN 978-0-395-64527-7

Cullen's first book combines an element of fantasy with the popularity goals of a seventh-grader. Eleanor, newly transferred to Sagamore School after ``moving across town,'' wants desperately to befriend Misty, the school's undisputed princess. But gaining entry into her clique proves challenging, especially since Misty's best friend dislikes Eleanor. Charlie, a serious, intelligent classmate, feels otherwise, but given his negligible social clout, Eleanor shuns his overtures. Yet by telling her about Joseph, an imaginary though seemingly real 12-year-old Civil War ghost, Charlie helps Eleanor win two sincere and very real friends. The novel's popularity-at-any-price theme is hardly new, and revelations about the insensitive, insecure ``in crowd'' have become a cliche in young people's fiction. Yet the story's main flaw lies in its self-centered, conniving protagonist; garnering sympathy for her is difficult. Snarly to her family and the loyal Charlie, Eleanor has the same wimpish quality she despises in others. The conclusion is skillfully handled, however, and almost compensates for Eleanor's slow transformation. Ages 9-12. (Apr.)