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by Doug TenNapel

Though he may have a macabre sense of humor, Garth Hale seems like an ordinary kid. But in the first few pages of Ghostopolis, it turns out that he's sick. Not the kind of sick like he's gross, but sick as in it looks like he won't live to adulthood.

Yet he deals. When ghost wrangler Frank Gallows accidentally chases a nightmare through Garth's bedroom and sends the boy and skeletal horse into the afterlife, it's just one more thing that means big deal, Garth's life isn't going as planned.

What neither Garth nor Frank expects is that the boy has a destiny in the afterlife, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't get back home before his mom gets too worried about him.

Creator Doug TenNapel has a knack for creating secret worlds bubbling just under the surface of our ordinary lives. As a writer, he also leaves a lot of those secret worlds to readers' imaginations, making them work a little harder, perhaps, but also a little richer.

Here it turns out that the dead keep trying to escape back into the land of the living, and that to answer, we've set up a Supernatural Immigration Task Force. In anybody else's hands, that would be the story. But for TenNapel, the bizarre is the mundane, and what little we can glean about the Task Force comes only if it's important to Garth's story.

That's not to say TenNapel skimps on detail. Clearly, he has this reality all figured out. The living seem actually lonelier, as in Creature Tech, TenNapel gives this a Central California setting, small towns where people aren't too crowded in on one another.

Contrast that to Ghostopolis, a city of the dead, perhaps, but buzzing with life. Medieval skeletons, goblins, happy mummy families and many more crowd the streets. Well, perhaps I shouldn't have said "happy" mummy families, because Ghostopolis rests under the thumb of a tyrant who has wrested it away from its creator's intent. No wonder everyone wants to escape back to Earth instead of move forward as they were meant to do.

Though Ghostopolis is filled with wonder, TenNapel has also grounded it in very normal concerns. Garth discovers the ghost of his grandfather, a man emotionally stunted in life and thus a perfect companion for his own adolescent grandson. He has a lot to work through, and it never feels forced or manipulative.Despite this being a story about a boy facing mortality, a strong wash of hope runs through it; ultimately it's extremely uplifting.

Simply, this is a great work for adolescent readers, challenging in its emotional depth but not too frightening. Though it is a complete story masterfully told, after finishing Ghostopolis, you'll want to see further adventures in TenNapel's land of the dead.

But that, I guess, we'll just have to imagine.


Derek McCaw

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