Is there writer who writes better characters who care for each other? Even her baddies don't get the nasty comeuppance so commonplace in horror's revenge fictions. Hoffman comes up with her own system of justice. Nice change of pace--not to mention creative thinking.
A strength of Hoffman's work is its domesticity--the realistic (and sometimes idealized) family relations. Fourteen-year-old Susan Backstrom is not used to having friends, but she invites herself to join a group headed to a haunted house. The house is haunted, but the teenagers--especially Susan--create a special bond with the house and its inhabitant, Nathan.
When Nathan tries to scare her off with his skull bone, Susan learns that Nathan's bones have special properties. They can touch when she holds one of his bones, and he can temporarily leave the house if she carries his bones out with her.
Meanwhile, back at home, Susan's father is abusive to her mother in order to get Susan to behave. As Susan's need to escape this environment into the haunted house grows, her explanations of science projects grow more and more strained. Something has to give. Worse, a nosy classmate has spotted them entering the haunted house and alerted the cops.
The book jacket blurb said Nina Kiriki Hoffman is "this generation's Ray Bradbury." I would agree (in fact it occurred to me before reading the blurb) in terms of that aspect of Bradbury. They have different styles and preoccupations. However, they also share a fondness for making traditional horror not so horrible, but a thing of love and beauty.They seek and find love in the darkest of places.
The novel would go on to become a finalist for various young adult book awards: Stoker, Locus, and Endeavour.