Review: Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

Skeleton Creek is young adult fiction for kids who grew up online — think Harriet the Spy meets The Blair Witch Project. Two bored teenagers manufacture a mystery in their hometown, which leads to a real mystery and some dangerous consequences. When one of them is seriously injured, the other continues the investigation, videotaping her adventures and posting them online. In order to solve the mystery, readers have to both read the book and watch the videos on the book’s website. Check out the trailer…

I don’t normally read YA fiction, but I was really interested in the book’s format. The book itself is fairly short (185 pages) and printed in a font that looks like hand-printing. The book is Ryan’s journal of events and it’s supplemented with Sarah’s videos of her part of the investigation. It seemed like a perfect format for teens who get bored easily and are comfortable with online content.

Ryan and Sarah live in the remote town of Skeleton Creek, and the whole adventure begins with their question: why name a town Skeleton Creek? A little digging (and some ominous warnings from the town librarian) turns up a bit of town history: it was once named Linkford, and the change had something to do with the New York Gold and Silver Company, a defunct mining concern that once had big interests in the town. Cryptic ads in these old newspapers put the kids on the lookout for the Crossbones Society, but their real interest is The Dredge. It’s a huge old piece of mining equipment, abandoned way out in the woods. They decide to make a midnight trip to the Dredge to investigate. What could possibly go wrong?

Ryan is seriously injured, locked up at home with a broken leg; he and Sarah are warned not to contact each other (this isn’t their first brush with trouble). So Sarah investigates on her own and posts her videos on a password-protected website for Ryan to watch. The mystery involves the librarian, the death of Old Joe Bush, a secret society with a secret meeting place, mysterious alchemical symbols and a tattoo. Periodically throughout the book, the journal directs the reader to Sarah’s website, providing a password, and the video provides more clues.

The videos have all the shaky-cam appeal of a Blair Witch-style dash through the forest. The book is aimed at kids 10 and up, so I don’t think they’re too scary (although I watched them at home, by myself, about 2:00 am – adds to the ambience). I have to say that this is exactly the sort of book that would have appealed to me as a kid. I was always scaring friends with ghost stories, always loved horror movies, and this would have been perfect.

I also think this is an interesting direction for books — more online content, more extras to increase their appeal, and more ways to draw young people in and get them hooked on reading. Sarah’s website, has several easter eggs (click on anything that glows – there’s a music video, a list of favorite films, but I really don’t get the fudgesicle thing). There’s a great fansite, with more videos, theories and discussion, which provide more ways for kids to experience the story and talk with other readers. Is this the direction that the publishing industry is heading? I don’t know, but I really enjoyed this whole book experience – reading, watching and wondering.

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