Author John David Anderson is not afraid to branch out and try different genres. The one common thread most of his books have are kids who don’t fit in to the norm. Contemporary stories like Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, about three boys and the special bond they had with a teacher. Posted, a second school story and how the power of words can make a difference. And ONE LAST SHOT, a boy whose love of miniature golf helps explain the puzzling aspects of his family.

Then came other genres. STOWAWAY, a space adventure. And now a magical realism with RILEY’S GHOST.

Riley Flynn is alone. 

It feels like she’s been on her own since sixth grade, when her best friend, Emily, ditched her for the cool girls. Girls who don’t like Riley. Girls who decide one day to lock her in the science closet after hours, after everyone else has gone home.

When Riley is finally able to escape, however, she finds that her horror story is only just beginning. All the school doors are locked, the windows won’t budge, the phones are dead, and the lights aren’t working. Through halls lit only by the narrow beam of her flashlight, Riley roams the building, seeking a way out, an answer, an explanation. And as she does, she starts to suspect she isn’t alone after all. 

While she’s always liked a good scary story, Riley knows there is no such thing as ghosts. But what else could explain the things happening in the school, the haunting force that seems to lurk in every shadow, around every corner? As she tries to find answers, she starts reliving moments that brought her to this night. Moments from her own life…and a life that is not her own.

Upper middle grade from 12 and up with a love of ghost stories would be the best audience for the story. There are moments of harsh language more appropriate for those nearing the PG-13 stage. It’s also not intended for kids with a more reluctant attitude toward reading. This type of reader will look at the thickness of the book (368 pages) and move on.

Riley’s backstory is spread out over the entire book flashing back to scenes with her classmates and family. It ties in nicely with the ghost story and how Riley has some similarities with the ghost, although they had me reading these scenes fast so I could return to the action at hand.

Getting trapped in a middle school might be a 13-year-old’s worst nightmare. But the doors do unlock eventually in a way never expected and will have you thinking about other kids who might be trapped by the ghosts of their past.


  1. Many kids in middle school come home to an empty house for a few hours. It’s a common occurrence in my community and I’m glad to see it portrayed so realistically here.
  2. Riley’s whole life evolved around her friend Emily. Now that Emily has other interests, it’s a harsh reality shared by kids who must to deal with losing a friend in their growing up years. Handled admirably in this plot.
  3. Anger management is a theme and we get to know Riley on a different level. She deals with the bully’s in a harsh way (e.g. stabbing a boy in the hand with her pencil). She has learned better ways to react but hasn’t quite mastered them.
  4. Not too scary. Instead the plot goes for an understanding of how we treat others can have long lasting effects.
  5. I felt sorry for the ghosts, Heather and Max. Their backstory does provide the healing Riley so desperately needs.


John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including the New York Times Notable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Posted, Granted, One Last Shot, and Stowaway. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife, two frawesome kids, and clumsy cat, Smudge, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (For more visit the author’s web page).


I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Please comment below!

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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9 Responses to RILEY’S GHOST

  1. Any title with the word ‘Ghost’ always gets my attention! Sounds good, thanks for the review!

  2. It’s great when authors branch out to other genres. This one would have probably scared me as a kid.

  3. Sue Heavenrich says:

    I love Anderson’s other books – so this one is definitely going on my list…

  4. Danielle Hammelef says:

    This one is now higher on my TBR. I am looking forward to reading it. This author sounds very talented.

  5. carolbaldwin says:

    Great review. I’m not a fan of ghost stories, but this might be an exception.

  6. Sounds interesting. I’ve enjoyed his previous stories.

  7. Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    I’ve never actually read any of John David Anderson’s books—I tried Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, but I was in a reading slump and gave up even though it was good—and reviews like these make me think I’m missing out on a lot! This sounds like a really compelling mix of realistic MG issues and supernatural creepiness—and I like that we learn the ghosts’ backstories too. Thanks so much for the wonderful review, Greg!

  8. I don’t usually go for ghost stories, but I do love John David Anderson’s books and you make this one sound very, very compelling. I’m putting it high on my TBR list. Thanks for such a great review.

  9. You feel sorry for the ghosts? That’s intriguing. Sounds like a really interesting story! Thanks for sharing.

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