I’m torn as to how to rate this book. The writing isn’t terrible nor is it bland enough that I really don’t care. But there’s nothing that’s grabbing me with the plot and telling me that “I HAVE TO READ EVERYTHING ELSE I MUST KNOOOOW.” (And honestly, I don’t remember when or why I purchased this book; I suspect that it was during another one of my “Hey, let’s go through the 100 Top Free Teen Books” on Amazon.) There is a good horror slant to the book, and there are some effectively creepy scenes in the book—I actually liked the bit when Ariel and her friends are going through a haunted orphanage, and her ability to see ghosts bleeds into the experience. That was a fantastic scene, as you really can’t tell at first that is the ghost boy an actor or is Ariel seeing things and the environment is making everything creepier. Most of Ariel’s interactions with the ghosts are actually well done, and I liked that there’s a great atmosphere to those scenes.I have to tangent on something that bugged me: Ariel’s said to be a fan of horror movies and haunted houses…whenever it’s pointed out that “Oh, btw I like horror movies.” I’m not asking that Ariel has to be dark and macabre and thinking about possible ways a serial killer would work. But it never comes across in the book that Ariel likes those things. Mentioning “The heroine who runs away and trips on her high heels” is something anyone could mention, because that stereotype is so well-known. There’s nothing that says that Ariel is genre-savvy and would know “Hey, how would things go in a horror story?” (If anything, her being a fan of haunted houses only shows that she wants to be stubborn around Henry and not the shrieking girl who has to cling on to the big strong boy.) And I could never get a handle on Ariel’s character. One minute, she’s dead-panning with her dad and the next, she’s moping about Henry and “Oh I can’t be with him because the bitchy mean girl wants him.” I never got that she was still grieving over Jenna’s disappearance, much less desperate to figure out what happened over the summer. There was really good potential with the horror angle, but as it is, Ariel’s another copied-and-pasted YA heroine with little personality to be her own character. Jenna was the other issue—she never makes a lasting impression. I never got the sense that Jenna and Ariel have been best friends since elementary school; if anything, Jenna felt more like a friend of convenience rather than someone Ariel should be willing to place herself in danger for. (Especially since Ariel never talks to anyone about Jenna’s disappearance; and to tangent again, why isn’t there a guidance counselor hauling Ariel in on the first day of school? If there’s a number of high-profile disappearances for school-age kids, why isn’t everyone stepping in and doing stranger-danger assemblies? I have a feeling that this is all swept under “Oh, well, there’s that secret society that runs the whole town!” Really? No one has family from out of town?)(Sorry, it’s just the disappearance of Jenna, coupled with two other girls’ disappearances has some similarities with the book I wrote. It’s my personal baggage.) Actually, the only character I really liked was Theo—she does come off as the quirky arty sarcastic friend for a good chunk of the plot, but I liked that it’s fleshed out that she’s really shy and nervous about showing off her work. She’s not a great character, but compared to the others, she actually had a personality. I couldn’t a handle on Henry—his constant mood swings of being sweet and charming to Ariel only to suddenly go to brash and cold were really jarring. The only kind of close relationship that I got between any of the characters was between Ariel and her dad; even then, I still had issues with Ariel’s parents.And a lot of the plot happens by convenience. We find out early on that Ariel’s mother and aunt do not get along well. It’s never explained, until Ariel needs to find out how to do a séance—and how convenient that Aunt Corinne knows a lot about séances and actually carries supplies with her everywhere. (I’m not making that up; Ariel steals candles and a book her aunt has in the suitcase.) Oh, Ariel has a special necklace that her grandmother used to have; how convenient that her grandmother claimed to see ghosts. Even more frustrating, there’s a lot of build-up that never gets used for this book. The aforementioned séance takes place at the orphanage-turned-haunted house, and Ariel’s dreams lead her to believe that Jenna and the two other missing girls are hidden there. And the climax happens…in the high school’s boiler room. I really hate the idea that nothing’s explained about the Dexter Orphanage because “Oh, it’s a series, and we’ll get to that in Book X.” Uh, no. There’s nothing even really resolved, aside from the murderer of the two girls who go missing throughout the course of the novel. Who happens to be Ariel’s history teacher and her father’s best friend. BULLSHIT. Allow me to reiterate for authors who want to have a twist ending: it needs to be plausible, and yes, there needs to be some set-up. A throwaway line about being a ‘turncoat’ for Halloween and info-dumping town folklore (and if he’s a history teacher, he’s doing a pretty bad job of it, as he ought to be explaining the fact from the lore) does not equal a set-up for him to be the villain. First of all, he’s barely on-screen for most of the book, aside from the school scenes. Second, there’s no evidence to connect him with the earlier disappearances. It’s lazy writing, and only exists to try and shock the readers. There is a good book in here. As I said, whenever the horror element was in full play, it was really well done, and I loved those scenes. But so much of it is bogged down by YA PNR c&p’d characterization and development; not to mention, the reliance of making creating a series to force the readers to read on to find out the deep ~mystery~ of the town and the secret society. And it doesn’t even do a good enough set-up to make me want to continue reading the series. This could have been a good little series, but it suffers by trying to fit in with all of the trends.