Review: Scary School by Derek the Ghost & Scott M. Fischer

Scary School
by Derek the Ghost
art from Scott M. Fischer

HarperCollins (2011)
237 pages
Middle Grade / Monsters / Humor

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It’s been awhile since I’ve read a middle grade book and I’m so glad that Scary School was my re-introduction into this type of fiction. It was silly, funny and brought back wonderful memories of the interconnected story collections I used to love in elementary school. Delightful is not a word I often use to describe books, but it’s the main word that comes to mind. This book is delightful.

There’s not a straight line plot in Scary School. Each chapter is about a particular character – either a student or faculty member – and something unusual they go through that could only ever happen at a school run by monsters with a student body that’s partly human. The narrator is Derek the Ghost, a child who died in an unfortunate chemistry fire and is now having to haunt the school. It starts with a new human kid (conveniently named Charles Nukid) starting at Scary School and immediately getting sent to detention for wearing the school uniform. Detention happens to be run by a T-Rex in a dress and little hat. At this point I realized as a reader that this wasn't like most of the books I've been reading lately.

Mild plot spoilers ahead (examples of crazy mostly)

As the book goes on, the theme that ties each of the chapters together comes in the form of the Ghoul Games, where each of the children will have to compete against other monster schools where the winner gets to eat the loser. Since Scary School’s population is predominately human children, that could cause some problems. Over the course of the book we get to see how students both human and monster deal with picking their chosen events and exactly how high the mortality rate is at Scary School (it’s pretty high).

Very early on Scary School reminded me of a distant monster-filled relative of Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books, which I loved and read over and over again in elementary school. Derek has that same absurd since of humor that will make small children (and those who occasionally still feel like small children) giggle uncontrollably. Whether it’s the dragon teacher who eats anyone who doesn’t follow his five rules – one of which is to not read the fifth rule – or the way the nurse handles the death of a few kids after their vampire teacher sucks out all their blood, this is humor that’s so silly you sort of look past the fact that all these kids keep dying horrible deaths.

At the same time there’s a lot of good “lessons” that the target audience could relate to and learn from. There’s bullying and name-calling. A few characters have few or no friends and feel very alone. In the end the book ends with a "we’re all the same and should be friends" sort of message that would seem trite if it weren’t for all the humor and silliness. In the end good triumphs over conniving evil and the human-monster hybrid school is accepted as a legitimate monster school by their competition.

There are a lot of lovely line drawings by Scott M. Fischer, giving faces to the kids and teachers, human and not-so-human. I received a number of strange looks while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room giggling like a maniac. While the characters are generally well-developed within the stories themselves, the art adds faces and even some extra personality to everyone depicted.

My only frustration – and I feel this might also frustrate some of the book’s younger audiences – was the number of times characters, events or potentially funny things were referenced off-hand only to be waved away with a “oh, I’ll tell you about that in the next book”. I get wanting to build an audience for the entire series, but it makes it a little hard to see Scary School as a complete work rather than just a piece of a whole. And I can only imagine some kid reading this with his parents wanting to know the details now (or was that just me as a kid?).

But that’s a small complaint in what was a very enjoyable read. I can’t wait until my nephew is old enough to read books like this. There is so much fun in this book and you can tell that Derek had a great time putting this story together. I’d definitely recommend this for any reluctant readers that might have a thing for absurd humor or monsters in general.

 

I received an electronic copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review. I would like to thank Derek for sending me a copy as well as being extremely patient with me.