If you're looking for a good spooky read for October, look no further than Tananarive Due's Ghost Summer. This collection of stories and a novella has all kinds of horror-based items for you: Ghosts, magical transformative lakes, weird demons that have odd ways of inhabiting young children, zombies that are smarter than the ones you see on The Walking Dead, post-apocalyptic life involving disease and other terrors.
But the thing that makes Due's book so good is that she never loses sight of the fact that what's really terrifying is for the reader to see these things happening to characters we believe in. Characters who are enmeshed in real-life quandaries: a young boy who thinks his parents might be divorcing; a young mother whose husband is out of town and who is having trouble coping with being a solo parent to a young child; a little girl who's terribly afraid that her jailed half-brother is going to be sent to the electric chair. Those are strong plots without any supernatural cast to them, but to Due's credit, she brings in the uncanny and just ramps up the tension like crazy.
But she also sees the beauty in the scare too. Take Davie, a young boy who is bound and determined to find a ghost in his grandparents' home, even though he's previously been unsuccessful, and it finally happens:
"For all the summer he had come to Grandma and Grandpa's house, with the strange noises in the hall and objects falling down, he had never actually seen a ghost. He had never seen a human being who had come to visit from somewhere far away; actual proof that dying wasn't forever.
"That ghost was the most beautiful sight of his life.
"When a sight like that crosses your eyes, Davie learned, there is nothing to do but cry."
I had only two bones to pick with the book. Some of the stories could easily be excellent novels, especially three connected stories about a young woman named Namiya, trying to cope after a drastic disease has swept the world and killed many. It's such a rich premise, especially given how well Namiya is drawn, that I would gladly read 300 pages just of her story.
The other item is somewhat minor. The book needed a thorough proofreading. One long story, told mostly in third person, periodically had a sentence in first person. It was out of place, and thinking about it, I wondered if the author had first written the story in first person, then changed it but hadn't quite caught all the first-person references. If that's the case, I think she was smart; first person would have been a tougher sell for this story. Other places, there are either stray words or words missing, that sort of thing. Not a ton, just enough to pop up now and then.
This is my second book for the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge, and I signed up for four, but I think this will be it for me. Much as I normally enjoy the October scare-a-thon, it's not working for me this year. Honestly? I blame the election. Real life is far scarier than what's in a book, and I need a distraction from fear. So, maybe next year. But if you're still RIP-ing along, this book kicks ass.