Crandalls' Castle - Betty Ren Wright

“Either you’re trying to scare yourself, or” -- he paused -- “maybe you’d rather lie around and read all summer instead of helping out here.”  His face reddened at her expression, but he kept on.  “That won’t work, and you’d better believe it.  My dad would put out the welcome mat for a ghost, and your folks -- Ray, especially -- would tell you to quit goofing off and get busy.”


Oh no he DID NOT.  In what world is reading all summer considered “goofing off”?  Isn’t it a good thing to encourage young minds to enjoy reading?  All summer?  What’s up with the people in this book seeing reading as a lazy activity?

I had a mental image of the 5-star rating meter as I read Crandall’s Castle.  I was excited, but I still tried to keep things at an average 3-star rating, hoping that things would begin to get better -- that I could add another star as I went.  Instead, one of the stars just kind of hung there until I reached more than halfway through the book and the star dropped out of sight completely.  Following, the next star began to sway.


With 50 pages left to read of this children’s paranormal murder mystery, I’m was swaying at around 1.5 stars already for a LOT of various reasons.  And yet, because this is a children’s book and it’s short and should have been a fast and easy read, I’m too stubborn to put it down and drop it altogether.


I remember enjoying Betty Ren Wright's The Dollhouse Murders when I was younger.  I don't remember if I loved it a lot, but I remember that it stands out as one of those books that impacted me as a child.  Probably because it was one of the first paranormal ghostly mysteries I'd ever read.  And it seemed fun and eerie.


In part, the progression of Crandall's Castle is slow as hell and the characters don’t make the book anymore exciting or likable.  Because of this, I’m not enjoying the book at all and instead wanted to finish it as quickly as possible so I could move on.


When you’ve got a paranormal, ghostly murder mystery… or something like that, you expect more aspects of the ghostly, eerie kind than simply a gloomy, stick-up-her-ass psychic girl who appears to be trying too hard to present herself as mature and grown-up (in which, doing so, she really just comes off cranky, rude, and pretentious).  There were a few ghostly sightings, but nothing that made you feel chilled or even anything that seemed worthy of the whole “running with your tail tucked between your legs” affect.  The supposed eeriness was touched up on briefly and so lightly that I even began questioning whether or not this was really a ghostly mystery.


It wasn't.

(show spoiler)


To top it off, I feel like I’m reading a contemporary about two preteen/teenage girls who just don’t like each other because they’re both selfish brats.  Again, Sophia is just a gloomy girl who thinks she’s right about everything just because she’s got some psychic power.  She’s got that “too cool for school” attitude, raining on parades and just being an all around, general emo.  It also upsets me a little that she’s got this psychic power to know things before they happen, but she completely dismisses the possible existence of ghosts -- both are perfectly plausible paranormal activities, and yet she believes in one and not the other, just because she’s psychic and she’s never seen a ghost.  Then she goes and tries to make Charli seem like she’s a silly child with a wild imagination; I would think that Sophia knew how it felt to be ridiculed for the things she said that seemed weird, but there she was, doing the same thing to Charli.


Charli is just a selfish, spoiled brat.  And she’s stupid.  When told not to tell her mom and stepfather about the ghostly sightings because, of course, they’ll think she’s crazy or making things up, she goes and does it anyway.  When being stepped all over and told that she’s childish and silly for some of her actions, she just takes it.  And then she gets scolded for reasons.


The hostility between Charli and Sophia were built completely out of a first impression pre-judgement of each other, both assuming something of the other girl’s personality (though their opinions of the other aren’t too off the mark).  It’s just annoying Sophia laments being shoved around from family to family without being given a chance to be part of those families, but she doesn’t even bother trying to put any effort into getting along with anyone.  And Charli is just a closed-minded spoiled brat who wants everyone to see things her way and like the same things she likes and hate the same things she hates and think the same way she thinks.


Maybe I'm really too far removed from a children's reading perspective to really understand the behavior of these kids.  But that doesn't mean I liked it, nor did I appreciate the way the adults behave either.


The rest of the characters don’t come off very well either.  The Crandall boys are flat and kind of boring to read about.  Uncle Will seems interesting enough and Aunt Lilly is confusing.  Rona (Charli’s mom) is also confusing and flat.  


But Ray…


Oh, Ray… the new stepfather.  On the one hand, Charli is a brat.  But on the other hand… where does Ray come off acting like a total jerk to the new stepdaughter?  I understand harsh criticism and reprimands from a father-like figure if your daughter does something wrong.  But he just comes off harsh and critical because he’s being a jackass.  Then again, anyone who likens reading to goofing off already has a minus 50 point rating in my book anyway.  


And then telling Charli to “lay off” of Sophia when Charli speaks her mind about how she feels?  That’s not fatherly advice or even a reprimand -- that just sounds like some random friend telling you to quit being a jackass… in the most spiteful, rude way.  A fatherly figure wouldn’t use those words and would reprimand his daughter in a more appropriate manner without starting the sentence with, “Oh, lay off, Charli”.


I’m also a little disturbed that whenever Charli expressed her feelings, Ray just brushed them off like she was just being a silly child.  When she told him that she was scared of that old house called The Castle, he automatically assumed that she was just trying to be lazy.  Why not try and find out why she’s scared of it?  It’s perfectly legitimate to be scared of a dilapidated old house that’s falling apart, especially for a young kid.


Also, niggling at Sophia’s past and then wondering why she’s upset when she clearly didn’t want to talk about things from her past?  My goodness, are you really an full grown adult?  Actually, never mind.  Yes you are.  You’re a man.  You’re a stupid, moronic man.  I stand corrected.

Anyway, I tried to enjoy this book through the same mindset as when I’d first read The Dollhouse Murders, but I just ended up frustrated.  And so now I’m worried that I may end up seeing The Dollhouse Murders in a different light than I remember it, expecting too much of something I remember to be a childhood favorite.