Do you wait for halloween all year round? I always do, and I miss it even more now that I live in Australia where it hasn’t quite caught on yet. But Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, gave me my Halloween fix and then some— ghosts, witches, magical fireflies, an adorable cat companion, and an awesome best friendship.
Title: Ghost Squad
Author: Claribel A. Ortega
Quick Pitch: Lucely Luna accidentally awakens evil spirits while trying to save her home and the tree that houses all her fireflies — the beloved ghosts of her family. Now she and her best friend must use all their knowledge of ghost hunting, witchery, and their own bond to save their whole town before it’s destroyed.
Why it’s diverse: Dominican culture and folklore, Dominican protagonist, diverse cast
CWs: Death (though explored in a very loving way)
Rating: 4/5 flickering fireflies
Ghost Squad is the debut novel of Middle Grade and YA author Claribel A. Ortega. Ghost Squad interweaves Ortega’s Dominican culture with a ghostly romp that uses the beautiful city of St. Augustine Florida as a backdrop. Twelve-year-old Lucely Luna lives with her dad — and all the ghosts of her relatives that have past on. The ghosts are an active and loving part of Luce’s family, whether they’re in their human ghost form or firefly form (In Dominican folklore, fireflies are said to be the ghosts of loved ones). The ghost tour business that Luce’s dad runs has been struggling for months, and now they might lose their home and the willow tree that houses the fireflies. Luce and her best friend, Syd, start investigating an old coven of witches that used to live in St. Augustine, and even uncover one of their old spells that might just save Luce’s house. But when the spell goes awry, Luce’s fireflies start getting sick. Even worse, they’re no longer the only ghosts in town. Malevolent spirts are now bent on taking over St. Augustine by midnight on Halloween, just a few days away. With the help of Syd’s witch of a grandmother, a fat cat named chunk, and all the bravery the girls have, Syd and Luce are determined to banish the evil spirits and save their town.
Ghost squad hooked me from the first page. I love when books incorporate a language other than English without feeling the need to constantly translate. Spanish is woven into the text in a very natural and cozy way that just adds to the level of immersion in the world (and if you’re concerned, most of the phrases can be figured out through context, or a quick google translate if you’re really curious).
The strongest part of the story is the friendship between Luce and Syd. They care so much for each other and always have each other’s back — but never miss a chance to make (good-natured) fun of each other. The girls feel their age, bantering back and forth with conversations that are always equally witty and goofy. These are smart kids, but they’re still kids. They make mistakes, they learn from them, and they welcome adult help when they need it. Their “normalness” made them feel all the more special when all the supernatural elements of the story really ramped up.
The only part of the writing that didn’t quite click for me was the pacing. Most of the chapters were on the longer side for Middle Grade, which could sometimes make the plot feel like it was dragging, even when a sequence of exciting events were unfolding. Now, I will readily admit that I prefer Middle Grade with shorter/medium length chapters so this could be just a personal quibble.
Other than the minor pacing issues, Ghost Squad was a very enjoyable, ghostly adventure from start to finish, with so much heart that it gave me all the warm fuzzies. I would recommend this book to anyone 7+.
eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect the contents of my review.