Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"So, I was in my bedroom, and suddenly this skeleton horse leaps over me... Next thing I know, I'm in the afterlife!"
"Wow, I had to get here the old fashioned way. But if you're still alive, then you don't belong here!"
"I was gonna die anyway. I've got an incurable disease."
"Still, your mother must be worried about you. And even if you only have a short time left on Earth, we should get you back to enjoy that short time!"
"Fine. So how do I get back to Earth?"
"There's a couple'a ways. Ghosts find their way back by sneaking through cracks, breaking rules, an' cheating the system. But I have a different idea. Do you know how this whole place came to be?"
"It was all built by one man... a mysterious Tuskagee airman named Joe. He made every mountain you see, laying one chunk of sand at a time. He stacked every brick in Ghostopolis so that ghosts would have a place to live."
He does like his dark setups, our Doug. He's not afraid of killing off a parent (CARDBOARD), marooning an entire family on a murderous isle (BAD ISLAND), and here he gives the main character, young Garth Hale, an incurable disease. In fact, Garth hasn't got that long left to live. Now that's just plain harsh.
Which is why Garth's attitude when accidentally sucked into the afterlife - during an accident caused by washed up ghostbuster Frank Gallows, who was in fact chasing after the equine apparition in question - is quite understandably a little defeatist. I should probably state right now - just in case you're considering buying this for your kids, having enjoyed the likes of Doug's TOMMYSAURUS REX previously - that please be assured there is a happy ending, a very happy ending.
I think you have to admire the incorporation of difficult topics like mortality into what are essentially children's stories. I remember as a young kid feeling emotionally stretched by the death of Aslan in 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe' when I first read it. Obviously there's a happy end, via a resurrection there, but still, I think if concepts of dying and death can be worked into the odd children's work, in a background or secondary way, it's no bad thing. For example, when recommending the majestic AMULET series to people, we always caution that volume one does start with the death of a parent, just in case there might be particular reasons why people would not want the intended recipient reading that even brief nugget of woe.
Before the happy ending though, Garth, and Frank who's decided to mount a rescue expedition to retrieve Garth from the spooky world of Ghostopolis, are going to have a rather hair-raising adventure. Along the way, they'll enlist the help of Cecil, Garth's deceased Grandfather, to do battle with Master Vaugner, the evil spirit who has taken control of Ghostopolis and made it a place of misery. As if being dead weren't sad enough?!
It's a rollercoaster adventure very much in the mould of AMULET, where ever more perilous danger lurks at seemingly every turn and allies are found in the nick of time in the unlikeliest of places, just when all hope seems lost. Oh, and that mysterious Tuskagee Joe, the long-vanished creator of Ghostopolis, might even make an appearance too before the end...
Lovely, dark, comedic fantasy that's neither too complex nor too disturbing for relatively young ones. I would say this work, like most of Doug's, is probably aimed at 7 or 8 years old upwards. The all-action style keeps the pace relentlessly breakneck which ensures the fun factor always outweighs any maudlin moments.