By Ashley Lessa
An irresistible coming-of-age story about a group of misfit kids who spend an unforgettable able summer investigating local ghost stories and urban legends.
Published by Penguin Books, The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that looks at life’s heartaches through the lens of childlike curiosity.
It is the 1980s, and 12-year-old Jake Baker’s life in Niagara Falls is just okay. He spends his time struggling to make friends, dealing with bullies and trying to combat boredom in his sleepy town. His most entertaining reprieve from reality and closest friend is his eccentric uncle Calvin who spends his time investigating all things paranormal and mysterious. Jake spends most of his afternoons chatting with “Uncle C” in his shop, “the Occultorium.” That is until the summer siblings Billy and Dove Yellowbird move to town. When the unsuspecting kids pop into the Occultorium one afternoon, Jake is surprised to find he gets along with Billy quite well and is smitten with Dove. When Billy shows some interest in “the beyond,” Uncle C quickly initiates the “Saturday Night Ghost Club.” Together, the three kids, Uncle C, and his best friend Lexington Galbraith spend every Saturday night of the summer visiting the locations of Uncle C’s terrifying ghost stories.
However, as the summer passes, what starts as seemingly innocent ghost stories and investigations take on a darker hue. It becomes clear that the mysteries in this sleepy town may be far more horrible than the harrowing ghost hunters imagined.
While The Saturday Night Ghost Club focuses on one summer in Jake’s childhood, the adult Jake (who is now a neurosurgeon) serves as the story’s narrator. His commentary gives insight into the workings of the human brain, provides subtle foreshadowing and rounds out the novel in a way that makes it feel appropriate for an adult reader (when, despite its dark undertones, it could easily be mistaken for YA). This narration is also the source of perhaps the novel’s only flaw: a slight tendency to over-intellectualize.
The novel is incredibly well-crafted; it is quirky with an air of nostalgia, filled with well-described settings and objects and amusing, relatable characters. While it does touch on dark themes, including mental illness, self-harm, abuse, and traumatic events, it stops short of gut-wrenching; it breaks the reader’s heart but builds it back up again before the finale.
The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a quick, nostalgic and spooky read that tackles difficult themes with grace and humor. (★★★★★)