Charming and spooky, Claribel A. Oretga’s middle grade debut, Ghost Squad, feels like the coziest autumn evening — ever.
Based in Dominican folklore, Ghost Squad follows twelve year old Lucely and her best friend Syd. Lucely lives with her father in the town of St. Augustine where he runs a ghost tour business. Lucely is very close to the rest of her family, but there’s a catch—most of them are ghosts. Members of her family turn into fireflies when they pass away, but only Lucely can see their spirit form, When strange things start to happen to her ghost squad (ha puns)and they start reliving their deaths. Together with Syd, Lucely embarks on an adventure to save her family but in the process accidentally casts a spell that unleashes evil spirits into St. Augustine.
Family is front and center in this book. As a reader, you can feel how much Lucely loves her family and how that bond transcends death. The relationship she has with them is comfortingly warm, and Lucely draws a lot of her bravery from that connection. Ortega’s writing is incredibly ethereal and explores that happy-sad, bittersweet spot between grief and celebrating life. Death is not the end of the road, in the world of Ghost Squad, the people that Lucely loves are still as vibrant as ever.
There are also tons of fun references for the reader to enjoy. Babette, Syd’s grandmother, has cats named after The Goonies crew, and one cat in particular, Chunk, steal’s the reader’s hearts. Ortega’s vivid descriptions make dreaming up scenes in the book easy to imagine—you can almost feel the fog settling near your ankles and feel Chunk’s soft fur through your fingers.
It’s great to see a book like this celebrate Dominican heritage and Latinidad throughout the book. Phrases in Spanish are sprinkled across the book and young Latinx kids will have a blast seeing people like them represented throughout the text. When I was a kid, I would obsessively read Goosebumps books, but I never really got to see any heroes with a similar heritage to mine in the pages. Ghost Squad is exactly the spooky fun book; I would have devoured when I was younger, and it’s so great to see it available for a new generation.
The atmosphere this book creates is fueled by 80’s nostalgia and classic family favorite Halloween movies. Fans of Stranger Things, Coco, Halloweentown and more will feel right at home with this delightfully magical treat!