Pittsburgh Post Gazette – Web site videos add realism to ghost story 2009

The best ghost stories are the ones that could be true, such as the kind told by friends and family around a campfire.These are the ones about the haunted houses in the next town over, the spooky people who mysteriously appear and then fade into the darkness, and the ghosts with unfinished business that appear in the graveyards nearby. Ghost stories that begin with the promise that they really happened put shivers down your spine and goose bumps on your arms.Patrick Carman’s “Skeleton Creek” (Scholastic, $14.99, ages 10-14) is a goose bump-raising novel with a twist. The book includes Web site links to video messages that tell part of the story.For some readers, this twist might be a bit awkward, since you have to watch the videos as you are reading. However, it makes the ghost story seem even more real.Carman presents his ghost story through the investigations of two teenagers, Ryan and Sarah. They’re looking into the mysteries of their hometown, Skeleton Creek.Ryan, who can’t live without writing, records their investigations in his journal. His journal entries provide the backbone of the story and allow Carman to set up the convincingly spooky atmosphere.The tone is made even creepier through the videos Carman uses to tell Sarah’s side of the story. Sarah, who can’t live without filming, records their investigations using her video camera.Sarah’s videos are posted to a Web site with access through passwords provided in Ryan’s journal entries. The videos have an amateur film student look that gives a realistic feel. The videos also provide visual interest, which may encourage reluctant readers to continue.Ryan and Sarah’s story starts with Ryan’s explanation in his journal of how he ended up in a hospital with a concussion and a broken leg. Ryan and his best friend Sarah have gotten into all sorts of trouble over the years.There was the hitchhiking incident, the breaking into the public library incident, and the stuck at the top of the ravine incident. All of these “incidents” have caused their parents to recommend that they should find other friends.However, this latest adventure has led both Ryan’s and Sarah’s parents to forbid them to communicate with one another. However, the teens are so entangled in the mysteries they are investigating that they can’t resist. They start communicating in secret.It all started the previous summer, when they became interested in the dredge. They found out that when Skeleton Creek was a gold-mining town, the mining company used the dredge to find gold.The dredge dug deep into the ground and pulled out every bit of stone and debris it could and then sifted and shook everything in search of gold. The process was loud and continuous — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and employed many people of the town.When Sarah decides to sneak out to the dredge late at night to explore, Ryan lies and says that he has homework and can’t join her. Later, he receives a Web site link to a video from Sarah.The video shows a shadowy man looking out one of the windows of the dredge. When Ryan accuses Sarah of faking the video, Sarah challenges him to go back to the dredge with her the next night. While there, Ryan encounters the ghost and falls through a broken railing.Ryan and Sarah pretend they are following their parents’ wishes to not communicate with one another, but they continue their investigations on their own. Ryan lets Sarah know what he finds out through e-mail, and Sarah sends Ryan videos of her investigations.Is the dredge really haunted? Why will no one in the town talk to them about it? Is there a secret society protecting the dredge? Ryan and Sarah will do their best to try to uncover the answers.So, find a comfy chair next to a computer and see how this ghost story unfolds. As the cover of the book enticingly suggests: “Read the book. Watch the videos. Uncover the mystery.” Just remember, the best ghost stories are the ones that seem real and those stories always have mysterious endings.Megan Fogt is a children’s librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Squirrel Hill.

Patrick Carman