Graveyard Scavenger Hunt, a Middle Grade novella by Brian Barnett, offers a refreshing young man named Pete Davidson. Pete has to stay with his mysterious, elusive grandparents for a week and in the first few chapters Mr. Barnett creates a believable dichotomous world. We see the contrast between Pete's more sheltered, synthetic life (he sits in the backseat as his mother drives him to the house; he brings two heavy, full suitcases with him when he is only staying a week), and the rural, organic life of his grandparents (who raise their own food and have goats for milking). Pete's reaction is one of uncertainty and fear. The relationships among the characters begin very believably as Pete gets embarrassed by yet desires his mother's support, has a father who is "very busy", and has to communicate with two very lovable yet unpredictable grandparents. (My only 'irk' was that I didn't know where the action took place. Was it in a particular state? I had to surmise it was Kentucky, but that is only a surmise.)
Mr. Barnett never loses sight of his main character and it's a relief to see a young boy so NOT sure of himself, who makes mistakes, rolls his eyes, and just plain feels lost.
Even after a stern warning from his grandfather not to enter the adjacent cemetery, Pete jumps into it at sundown to retrieve a drawing that had blown away, and it's here that the novella takes on a completely different tone. Thrust into a new world that Tim Burton would most likely love to re-create for a movie set, Pete is forced to enter a Scavenger Hunt that has deadly consequences if he should lose. The Hunt is full of ghouls and witches and skeletons, and the characters spin by so quickly that it's a bit like Alice in Wonderland on speed.
What Mr. Barnett succeeds at so effortlessly is keeping Pete grounded while battling these baffling demons. Pete may not be strong or athletic ("All the years of watching television and playing video games had sapped him of his childhood energy.") and his fears keep him very paralyzed at times, but his ability to talk his way out of situations is his finest coup.
I only wished Mr. Barnett had made the book longer: I wanted to spend more time in the Hunt and have deeper interactions with all the characters. But, as the ending soon provides, one can tell a sequel is in the works.
This Middle Grade novel blurb says it is geared for kids ages 8-12, but I think it would work best for the 8-10 set. It's not that scary, nor was it intended to be. It's more like a wonderful ride at a theme park. It would make a great gift for a young boy to read and would hold his interest while he is in the car on a two-three hour drive to say, his grandparents' house.