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Review: Whispering Pines by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4)

This Middle Grade caught my attention because of how gorgeous the cover is! It was definitely an impulse buy, and a step outside of my normal reading habits!

In Whispering Pines, Rae Carter finds herself moving across the country a year after the random disappearance of her father. With her relationship with her mom and sister fractured by all the changes and growing more distant, Rae finds herself in a strange new city, facing a brand new middle school, after a year of ridicule at her last.

In the city of Whispering Pines, Rae stumbles on oddity after oddity, spurred by her own search for her father to dive in deeper and deeper.

She knows all too well what it's like to be ostracized, so she empathizes with the boy across the street. The one who lays salt circles around his house... and whose parents specialize in ghost hunting. Caden Price is the town oddity... even in a town where everyone shrugs at ghosts and horror stories.

With the disappearance of his brother a year ago, and rumors swirling with Caden at the forefront, the twelve year old is content to keep to himself. Isolated by the secrets of what happened to his brother, the jokes and names from his classmates, and the weight of his magical gifts, Caden is surprised when his new neighbor, Rae Carter, isn't scared off by him, his family, or the way the town talks about them.

With children going missing more and more, and all clues pointing toward Rae as the next victim, Caden realizes he must step up and put the wrong right once again. Even if he's not sure he can do it.

Rae and Caden band together to discover the town's secrets and save the kids in their school, even though it means revealing parts of themselves they vowed not to share again.

As I review this book, I of course have to keep in mind that its target demographic is middle schoolers! That being said, it was an enjoyable read. Even as a 25 year old, I found myself eager to find out what was around the next bend.

These authors did a great job with the suspense and the horror elements. Reading late into the night, there was a moment where I thought I should probably put it down before bed and turn to a silly comedy movie instead. I didn't end up needing that, since the horror isn't adult-levels, but it was the perfect amount of creepy for me, and even hit on one of my personal fears.

There were a couple of moments where they foreshadowed the twist and it was right on the nose. Those moments seemed a little forced in, so of course I immediately figured out the truth, but obviously this is for a much younger audience, and I can see kids getting excited at those moments as they piece together the mystery!

At the same time, there were details that came out at the end that I definitely didn't see coming. They weren't overall plot details, but they gave the story some depth. At one point, Rae was tricked and discovered why she should've realized it was a trick, and I was like of course! right along with her.

The characters were definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this book! Both kids were ostracized in their pasts, and this book could've ran with the bullying, but the authors made another choice. Even Caden, who separated himself from his classmates as they continue to joke about his involvement with his brother's disappearance, discovered that he made the choice not to have friends. If he had spoken up rather than disengaging with others, some of them would've welcomed him.

As his friendship grows with Rae, she brings him into the fold of her new friend group. At first she's stuck between wanting to be his friend and not wanting (again) to be painted as a freak or an outsider. After telling her friends at her old school what she thought happened to her father, they bullied her and made her out to be strange and freaky. She sees that part of her past in Caden... but as they soon discover, many of the kids at her new school think he doesn't like them as much as he thinks they don't like him.

While I think their new friends should've offered Caden an apology about joking about the disappearance of his brother, Caden reacts with levity and dry wit, having accepted what happened to Aiden nine months ago. He's resigned to his past and who/what his family is. But I still would've liked to see some genuine apologies from the friend group... Caden did suffer when Aiden went missing, and the jokes likely would've hurt Caden, whether he showed it or not.

For Rae, her storyline progresses nicely. She comes to Whispering Pines with strained relationships between her, her sister, and mom. With her father missing, she feels like the only person who knew her is gone, and her mom and sister have simply moved on (and moved away from the life they had with their dad). As the book continues, Rae begins to discover that it's not so black and white, especially when it comes to her older sister, Ava.

Rae and Caden have similar strained relationships with their parents, albeit for different reasons, and it was refreshing to see these issues partially resolved in different ways. The relationships between families grown and change, but still have some room to improve at the end of the book. Their homelife issues aren't wrapped up neatly by the end, and that's something I really enjoyed... and really appreciate in a book for this age group.

Book two is in the works, and I definitely looked it up as soon as I finished Whispering Pines! It's out on September 14th,and I'm definitely going to pre-order! The end of this book left SO MUCH to be discovered. As some mysteries closed, more opened up along the same threads, and I'm super eager to see how these complications play out in book two.


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