The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto

Farrar. Apr. 2023. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374390433.
Gr 3-7–In this intriguing paranormal fantasy-mystery, 12-year-old Cuban American Rafael “Rafa” and his best friends’ harebrained scheme to steal their school’s slushy machine lands them in trouble. Rafa is banished from Miami to a Santa Fe, NM, ranch for the summer that’s an artists’ retreat, a scientists’ research center, and potentially haunted. His first day there Rafa sees cows in the canyon that no one else seems to see, and a strange man who tells Rafa that he shouldn’t be there. Assigned to help Black barn manager Marcus, a military vet, Rafa is blamed when the horses escape the corral. With help from his only peer on the ranch—purple-braided, talkative Korean American Jennie Kim, daughter of the ranch librarian—Rafa investigates some very odd and inexplicable incidents. Jennie tells him about the outlaw cattle-rustling brothers who lived in the canyon in the 1800s and reputedly still haunt it. They suspect one of brothers’ ghosts is behind these strange occurrences. Their investigation leads them into a dangerous and otherworldly paradox. Beyond the story’s scary, mysterious, and humorous aspects, it sensitively explores the characters’ invisible scars from illness, PTSD, death, grief, and anxiety.
VERDICT The emotional resonance for readers in this appealing story is in how Rafa and other characters come to terms with transformative events in their lives in a very real and relatable way.

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