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About The Book

Pixar’s Coco meets Neil Gaiman in this “terrifically eerie and atmospheric…a skillful mix of scary, sweet, and silly” (Booklist) middle grade novel about a girl whose quest to ensure her deceased grandmother is resting peacefully leads her to the magical and perilous kingdoms of the underworld.

Everyone in Whispering Pines knows their town is full of ghosts, but Helena Novak hasn’t seen a trace of her late grandmother, Babi. Helena and her best friend, Ben, spend most of their free time in the cemetery, yet no amount of gifts on Babi’s grave has lured her spirit out. But someone else has been paying attention.

Helena feels she’s being followed, and one day, all Babi’s grave gifts disappear. When Helena and Ben investigate, they find a secret door in a crypt that leads to the underworld itself. The sprawling subterranean world is a maze of eerie kingdoms, piercing castles, creepy forests, swirling seas, and crowded marketplaces full of unsavory characters. While the living can visit, if they get lost—or taken by the mysterious Nightmare—they won’t be able to leave. Despite the danger, Helena is set on finding her grandmother and seeing for herself that Babi is doing well in this strange place.

So when eccentric underworld guide Grumbones offers to help Helena and Ben find their way, they think it’s their lucky break. Sure, he looks like Santa’s skinny evil brother and some of the memento mori spilling out of his pockets look awfully familiar, but better a slightly suspicious helper than none at all…right?


Chapter 1: Goth Girl CHAPTER 1 Goth Girl

Icouldn’t remember how many times I’d been called “Haunted Helena.”

I’d been hearing it my whole life. Practically an eternity. So it was pretty much a given that the minute I rode into town with my folks that morning, it would start up again.

Everyone in Forlorn calls me haunted. And sure, I spend a lot of time at the cemetery. I have my reasons. I also know more about the afterlife than any of my sixth-grade teachers. But I never really wanted to see an actual ghost until my grandma died. Not really.

“I think we’re all ready to head into town. Jacket, glasses, keys—where are my keys?” Mom patted her heavy-duty bib overalls in her usual state of morning chaos, unaware of my plans. “Adam? Do you have the tugboat keys?”

Dad grunted from beneath his graying beard that foggy Saturday morning. He’s tall, like my grandmother was, and they had the same eyes. My dad’s a salvage diver, and my mom pilots their tugboat while he dives off the coast.

As he buttoned a flannel shirt over his black wet suit, he gestured toward the coffee table. “Truck keys.”

He wasn’t big on talking. Divers didn’t need to say much underwater.

“No, the tugboat keys,” Mom said, making a little boat shape with her hands. “Am I having a conversation with myself? Hello? Self? How are you?” Mom made talking-head shapes with her hands and answered in a goofy voice: “I’m great, but no one listens to me. How ’bout you?”

Mom, they’re on the peg by the door,” I said, standing on the toes of my red rain boots to retrieve the keys while two shaggy dogs watched. A third dog was asleep in the corner. “See? Right here, under this helpful sign that says ‘Keys.’ Imagine that!” I tossed them to her.

“Eww, I don’t like sassy Helena.” Mom scrunched up her nose as she caught the keys. “Go fetch sweet Helena, wouldya? I want to play with her instead.”

“?‘Sweet Helena,’?” I mumbled while slipping into my black storm jacket. “Sounds like a cursed porcelain doll that comes to life at night and terrifies people in their beds.” I didn’t feel very sweet that morning. I was too anxious about what I was going to attempt that day and hoping she didn’t notice what I’d stashed inside my inner jacket pocket. If she did, I’d have to tell her what it was for, and she’d ground me. That couldn’t happen today of all days.

Because here’s the thing. When people call you haunted all your life, you start to wonder what’s possible. Life, death, and all things supernatural… I thought about them a lot. And I really wanted to see my dead grandmother again.

Just for a moment!

And yes, I was talking about seeing her honest-to-goodness spirit from the afterworld, not some hokey vision of her face briefly appearing in the melted butter on my pancakes like some people “see” their long-lost uncle or an angel.

No, I wanted to talk to my actual grandma again. And according to everything she’d told me while she was still alive, I should’ve been able to do just that….

“If you need me, talk to me like you’ve heard me talking to your grandfather,” she’d told me last year. “Talking to the dead only requires a memento and a special summons.”

Grandpa Novak had died before I was born, but that hadn’t stopped my grandma from chatting with him every night in her bedroom using an old army photo of his. So, yeah, I guess you might say that my entire family was a little strange.

I’d been called worse.

So had my Babi—that’s short for “babicka,” which means “grandma” in Czech—aka the best grandma in Oregon. But the truth is, not everyone loved her like I did. She’d been a florist who’d specialized in funeral arrangements and had had a reputation for being what my mom politely called “stern” but what our next-door neighbor Mrs. Whitehouse impolitely called “a holy terror.” My Babi had had a rough life. I guess that had made her a little cranky sometimes.

But never to me. I was her sweet Helenka, and she was my fierce and loving protector.

We were a team. She was my “person.” We shared a bond that couldn’t be broken.

Not even in death.

So I did as she’d instructed: every day, I went into her bedroom, sat before a framed photo of the two of us together, and spoke the special summons out loud:

Together before, together again.

And I waited for her to appear. I waited and waited…. I waited to see her crooked smile (some would say “snarl”) and to hear that croaky voice of hers that I loved so much.

But… no ghost. Ever. No cold spot in the hallway where my father was currently dragging his oxygen diving tanks. No moving shadow in the corner under the key rack near the front door. Just a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t right.

But there was also something very important I needed to talk to Babi about that I hadn’t gotten to tell her before she’d died. I’m talking highest level of concern. Which is why I decided to do something drastic.

Something desperate.

And because it was so extreme, I didn’t dare tell my parents. Even if they had shared my enthusiasm for talking to ghosts—and they did not, I promise you—they wouldn’t just have grounded me. They’d have forbidden me to ever go to the cemetery again if they knew what I had planned.

Which made me so anxious, I’d had to pee three times already.

But that morning, Mom was oblivious to the reason for my uneasy mood. “Well, daughter of mine, you’re going to have to take your scary-doll routine on the road if you want a ride into town this morning. Move your buns! That goes for people and dogs.”

Herding the dogs was my responsibility, so I called them, and we headed through the stained-glass front door. First outside was Ike the Third, my grandma’s old dog, a big midnight-black mutt. She’d named all her dogs Ike. The other dogs that followed I’d named by size. Big. Little. Tiny. Those three we were only fostering until someone adopted them.

Ever since Babi had died, I kept finding shaggy stray dogs, so I kept bringing them home.

The house was getting full, but they were good company, and I didn’t have many friends.

Just the one, to be honest. Ben. My best friend since forever. But things had been a little weird between us lately.

My phone buzzed with a text from him: Ubarube yuboubu stubill cubomubing?

That was our secret SOS code from when we were both Junior Coastal Rangers. It was really just Ubbi Dubbi, but I was nearly positive my parents didn’t know what that was, so we continued to use it for texting.

I texted him back: Ubon my wubay

All settled. I was glad he’d agreed to do this with me. It was hard to coordinate stuff with him lately, him with all his clubs, and me with all my… glooming around. I pocketed my phone and herded the dogs toward the driveway.

“Let’s go, Shag Pack,” I told them, and they hopped into the back seat of our muddy and very dented family truck, squeezing around oxygen diving tanks while Mom started the engine. I crooked one arm over my jacket, acting natural, hoping my parents didn’t notice what I was hiding inside. Then the truck rolled along the driveway, away from our two-story Victorian house, and we drove down winding, foggy streets that all sloped toward the Pacific Ocean.

It was a gray day. The anniversary of my Babi’s death.

A good day to call up her spirit from the afterlife.

What I had stashed in my jacket was just part of what Ben and I would need to accomplish that task. We’d already prepared some things in secret at the cemetery. Everything was ready but the last few details, which would be handled when we met up this morning. I exhaled a long breath and tried not to think about all the things that could go wrong.

When it came to ghosts, I didn’t trust that anything would be simple.

Everyone knows that my hometown of Forlorn is a historic West Coast fishing harbor, our waters once filled with whales and orcas. But local legends say it’s also chockablock with old ghosts. I’m talking jam-packed, right here on our dangerously rocky shoreline. Ghosts of pirates and explorers. Ancestors of the local Chinook Indian Nation. Lost pioneers.

They don’t call this area of the Oregon coast “the graveyard of the Pacific” for no reason.

Ships crash here because our fog is so thick. Locals call it the Grum: a little gray, a little glum. Grum. It’s why we have not one but two lighthouses, Calamity and Blunder.

The Grum does not mess around. It’s a ghost maker.

All these ghosts, but no Babi? How could that be right?

Mom turned onto the main road by the harbor, and though the Grum was still too thick here for us to see the ocean, I could smell the salt water, even with the windows up. Our tugboat was docked at a pier a couple of blocks from here, near Lighthouse Blunder. When the weather’s clear, I can see it from the cemetery on the hill above the harbor.

Museums and private buyers pay my parents to search underwater shipwrecks off the coast, and even though Mom and Dad claim to have never seen undersea ghosts, they’ve found plenty of old skeletons. Some of what they discover—skeletons not included—ends up belonging to the state or military, even other countries. Sometimes they get to keep stuff. Our attic is filled with rusted swords, a carved mermaid figurehead, and old coins. Jayne Jackson won’t spend the night because she says my house smells like whale pee. Like she’d know.

At the end of the block, Mom pulled into an empty space at the curb in front of an old convenience store that was painted with black and white stripes to mimic a lighthouse. Beacon Corner Shop.

Being a two-minute jaunt from Forlorn Middle School and offering a superior imported candy selection made the Beacon a hot spot for everyone who walked to school. Being a couple of blocks down the hill from the house of Granny Booker, my best friend’s grandma, also made it the perfect meet-up place for what we were planning today.

“I’m so glad you and Ben are hanging out,” Mom said. “It’s like the good old days.”

“We see each other at school every day,” I reminded her. But I knew what she meant.

“It’s nice for old friends to do things together. Hey—don’t buy a bunch of bubble gum in there,” Mom warned me as I waited for the Shag Pack to exit the truck onto the sidewalk.

“Gum? Pfft. I’ve learned my lesson.” I cracked my jaw to one side, causing a popping noise. A recent visit to the dentist had diagnosed me with a painful jaw condition called TMJ. That meant no chewy foods, and a night guard when I slept to stop my teeth from grinding. “So, when will you guys be back from the dive? That is, if the fearsome Forlorn Worm doesn’t get you.”

Dad rolled his eyes in the rearview mirror. The Forlorn Worm is our local legendary sea serpent—a big white devil that supposedly lives deep under the waves and takes down ships in the Grum. Every year, a blurry picture of the creature makes the rounds on local blogs.

“We’ll be back before dinner,” Mom assured me. “Forlorn Worm or not. Pick you back up here around four? Your dad promised to make us something tasty.”

“In Hades?” I asked.

Dad had built a brick pizza oven in our backyard after Babi had died. He’d named it Hades because when he fired it up with wood, it got as hot as Hades. So far, we’d eaten approximately three thousand wood-fired pizzas made in Hades—no complaints from me, but Mom said she was having nightmares about us turning into flaming pizza people.

“No pizza,” Mom said, and he agreed with a disappointed nod.

“Welp, see ya later, exterminators,” I said. “And text me if you find any skeletons during your dive.”

As I scooted across the seat, Mom peered at the bulge under my jacket. “What you got there?”

“Huh?” I felt my ears getting warm, but my dark bobbed hair was just long enough to cover them. Whenever I get embarrassed, my ears turn lobster red, just like my dad’s. I couldn’t let her see that. I was so close to freedom!

“Helena?” Mom said, reaching through the seats for my jacket collar.

“My sketchbook, nothing important,” I mumbled, wiggling away. And before she could demand evidence, I pulled my jacket tight to my body, snapped my fingers to call the Shag Pack, leaving Ike the Third behind with my folks, and slipped out of the truck. “I’ll be careful. Promise. See you at dinner.”

Whew! That was close.

“Helena?” Mom called through the door before I could close it, a little worry in her tone. “Don’t bring any cursed dolls home. Or stray dogs. Vaccination bills are bleeding us dry, hon.”

“No more shaggies,” Dad agreed.

“Don’t forget to ask if your dog adoption flyer inside the shop has had any interest, okay? Then the two of you go straight to Granny Booker’s,” Mom added. “And don’t go near the cemetery! Hear me? Cool it with the spooky stuff, okay?”

“It’s not easy being this Goth, you know.”

“Try wearing pink,” Mom encouraged.

I sighed heavily. Funny that neither of my parents seemed to remember what day it was, anniversary-wise. If they had, they’d have been visiting Babi’s grave themselves. For now, I was thankful for their forgetfulness.

And before they could remember that or anything else, I made like a ghost and disappeared into Beacon Corner Shop as fast as I could.

About The Author

Photograph by Heidi Darbo

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult books, including Alex, ApproximatelyStarry EyesThe Lady Rogue; and Always Jane, and the middle grade novels Grumbones and The Knight Thieves. She also writes historical romance and fantasy for adults. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award, and been included on Publishers Weekly’s Best Books annual list. She currently lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (August 1, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665930314
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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Raves and Reviews

* "[R]ichly executed, with well-drawn creatures and characters...Helena’s experiences in Hereafter reflect the grieving and desperation that humans feel for connection with their loved ones after death. Loving bonds between family members and close friends sit comfortably at the heart of this supernatural, often gruesome tale that expertly explores people’s feelings of love and loss against the backdrop of an absorbing story of the nonliving...[o]riginal and absorbing; presents suspenseful underworld chills alongside heartfelt human emotions."

– Kirkus Reviews, starred review 

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