The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: First things first. I can’t WAIT for the next installment of Lockwood & Co. Please, please Mr. Stroud, get it to us soon! In the meantime, I can’t wait to read this first book, The Screaming Staircase (Disney/Hyperion Sept. 2013) all over again! Now, for the uninitiated – that is high praise indeed. Our charge here at Bookends is all Youth books and that is a LOT of books as you can imagine. My husband frequently comments on that fact as he tries to find room to sit or eat in our book-covered house. So wanting to read a book again immediately is not a common event. I do. It is taking all my willpower to keep from abandoning this post and happily starting again on page 1.
So what makes Screaming Staircase so special? For me it lies in these elements: world building, humor and character. There are few writers out there who manage world building better than Stroud and this new world is wonderfully drawn. Stroud gives us just enough to makes us comfortable but not enough to answer all the questions – and such tantalizing questions! We know the “Problem” began about 50 years ago – ghost encounters manifested across England and being touched by a ghost is most often fatal. These days houses are stocked with iron and salt, a curfew is carefully observed and ghost lamps shine out into the dark. Since “extreme psychic sensitivity” is mostly found in the young, they are on the front lines and a whole new industry was born.
Meet the independent agents of Lockwood & Co. Investigators, teens Anthony Lockwood, researcher extraordinaire George Cubbins and the newest member of the firm and narrator, Lucy Carlyle – without an adult supervisor in sight. Their task? To locate spirits, discover what draws them and dispatch them to a quiet rest. Unfortunately, their somewhat slap-dash methods lead to disaster and the firm has to take on one of the most notorious haunted houses in England and the Screaming Staircase to keep their business afloat.
I love the interplay between the characters, each wonderfully drawn and each guarding secrets. The snarky humor I loved in Stroud’s Bartimaeus series is happily in play here too as the trio survives one near-catastrophe after another to emerge (mostly) triumphant at the end. Stroud takes steam punk and classic ghost stories and plays with both tropes in a wholly delightful re-invention. I can’t wait for more cases and the unfolding of secrets that lie ahead. Let it be soon!
Cindy: Ghost hunting hasn’t been this fun since Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis were in The Ghostbusters. I think the opening sentence of the book gives you a good flavor of what is in store (as good first lines should do!):
Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identify of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.
The first chapter gets the reader in the thick of the adventure in a case that is successful in its mission, but not without some serious destruction of property, but I’ll take Lucy’s lead and will say little about that here. We then learn how Lucy came to be a part of Lockwood & Co. Their reputation and business solvency at stake, they take on the extremely dangerous case of the Screaming Staircase. I am such a fan of the Bartimaeus books but this story is the start of a very promising series and will be an easy sell to my middle school readers this fall. My biggest problem? Not, “Who ya gonna call?” Nope. I won’t have enough copies no matter how many I buy.