Set in Salisbury, England, Funke tells the story of an eleven year old boy named Jon who is sent to boarding school by his mother. As we expect, Jon is unhappy about going to the school. He feels his mother is sending him away so that she can continue to grow her romantic relationship with a dentist known to readers only as, “The Beard.” This is the nickname Jon has, quite un-affectionately, given to the man.
After wallowing in his misery at the school, a strange thing happens. Jon is approached by three ghosts. The story begins to unfold revealing that Jon is known to the ghost world by his mother’s maiden name of Hartgill. From here, the story takes off and fills with ghosts of all types, adventures that could kill our characters, and maturing relationships on various levels.
While you may enjoy the pure fun of meeting ghosts, dueling knights, and even a little kidnapping, I think you’ll mostly enjoy the relationships that Funke develops in this quick read. The story is told from Jon’s point of view. From the language used, you sense he is re-telling a story that happened some time ago. It is as if Jon may be in his forties telling you of his first adventure with ghosts when he was eleven. From time to time Jon will say things that indicate the relationships formed at this young age are still important to him as an adult. In fact, one relationship in particular is referenced as though it has deepened considerably over time. This depth building leads me to believe that a sequel or perhaps a trilogy is in the works for these characters; although I have yet to see one announced.
Along with the relationships that are built within this book, there are also enough twists and turns to keep you reading. The chapters are short and the story moves right along- a feat that will keep a young-reader audience engaged. To her credit, Funke is able to build depth while knowing the hearts of the pre-teen world. She keeps the action moving without getting too deep into relationships, but be mindful, the foundation is being built.
I recommend this one to young readers and encourage parents to take note. This could be a series that will engage some folks who have been reluctant to read. A continuation of the story with new adventures will be well received.