5/5 stars — a fun and genuinely spooky middle grade adventure
Ghost Squad is the best middle grade ghost story I can remember reading. It’s a fast read (or listen; the audiobook is excellent), full of supernatural chills lightened up by humor and strong underpinnings of friendship and family support. The Dominican cultural influences are present and powerful, really setting the book apart. Main character Lucely Luna and her best friend Syd are on a quest to save Lucely’s deceased relatives, who take the form of fireflies (called cocuyos in Taino). In the course of their quest, they turn to Syd’s grandmother, Babette, a witch with lots of cats, including the particularly intelligent Chunk. They encounter a number of ghosts, some less friendly than others, and eventually set out to save not only Lucely’s father’s ghost tour business but their town from the grip of a powerful ghostly enemy. During their efforts, they get help from Lucely’s cocuyos, including a cousin who was a boxer and her dead grandmother. I loved everything about this story, from the way Claribel Ortega crammed it full of atmosphere without sacrificing character growth or rushing the plot to the exploration of grief and how it felt for Lucely to take on the role of protector to her family despite her young age. Most of all, I enjoyed how the kids always had support from each other and their families. Even when they were sneaking around Babette’s shop or trying to help Lucely’s dad without his knowledge, they had other family to turn to and each other's loyalty to rely on. I highly recommend Ghost Squad for the 8-12 middle-grade set! It’ll likely appeal to readers who enjoyed Victoria Schwab’s Cassidy Blake series. (And honestly, I loved it as a little break from emotionally weighty adult and young adult books. Stressed-out adults: give this a shot. The audiobook’s only five hours long and it’s adorable, plus Almarie Guerra de Wilson’s narration is stellar.) I'll be buying this in hardcover at some point—look at that incredible cover art! featuring girls of color!—so I can pass it on to any friends with children who read in this age range.