Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy. For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business. Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd's witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely's firefly spirits before it's too late. With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.
New York Times Bestselling and award-winning author, Claribel A. Ortega is a former reporter who writes middle-grade and young adult fantasy inspired by her Dominican heritage. When she's not busy turning her obsession with eighties pop culture, magic, and video games into books, she’s co-hosting her podcast Bad Author Book Club. Claribel is a Marvel contributor and has been featured on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Good Morning America and Deadline.
Claribel’s NYT Bestselling debut middle grade novel Ghost Squad is being made into a feature film. Her latest book Witchlings (Scholastic) was an Instant NYT and #1 Indie Bestseller. Her graphic novel Frizzy with Rose Bousamra is out now from First Second and was an Indie Bestseller. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok @Claribel_Ortega and on her website at claribelortega.com.
Ghost Squad, Claribel A. Ortega's touching debut, is a shining example of why I love, and continue to read, the Middle Grade genre.
This adorable story follows 12-year old, Lucely Luna, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, with her father, who gives walking Ghost Tours of the city.
As amazing as that concept sounds, business unfortunately is not as profitable as one would hope.
It seems like no matter what he does, he just can't make enough money to keep them afloat. In fact, they are in danger of losing their home. The only home Lucely has ever known.
When Lucely overhears this news, she is beyond worried. Not only is it the house she grew up in, but the ghosts of her ancestors live here.
That's right. Lucely can see and interact with the ghosts of dead family members. They've become firefly spirits and she believes that magic is tied to the property.
They cannot lose it.
Together with her best friend, Syd, the girls try to figure out a way for Lucely's Dad to get the money he needs to hold off the bank foreclosure.
Unfortunately, the girls inadvertently cast a spell that awakens malicious spirits, who then wreck havoc, threatening not just them and the dragonfly spirits, but the entire town.
From there we follow Syd and Lucely as they try to figure out a way to undo what they have done.
They seek assistance from Syd's grandmother, Babette, who happens to be a witch, and her fat tabby cat, Chunk, who I loved.
This entire book was full of action, heart and humor. I loved Lucely and Syd's relationship. It was so pure. They showed unconditional love and care for one another, it filled my heart.
Syd's grandmother, Babette, was a great character as well, as she guided the girls in the magical arts.
Ghost Squad is based on Dominican folklore and I really enjoyed how that cultural influence could be felt throughout the story. In addition, there is mystery, intrigue and some chilling, spooky moments.
Personally, I think this book can be enjoyed by any Reader, regardless of age. If you love spooky stories, with ghosts and magic, you should definitely give this one a shot.
I am looking forward to seeing what Claribel A. Ortega comes up with next. I will 100% be picking it up!
If you're wondering what kind of energy GHOST SQUAD has, look no further than this gif from COCO.
Not only are there ghost chanclas (yes, ghost!) but there are:
* Fat cats named after The Goonies * A witch grandma in a leather jacket * Brown & Black girls on bikes having adventures. * Dominican folklore * Vintage video games * Scary ghosts that can take the form of different creatures (like dragons) * One very fat cat named Chunk
My cover is also live now, and all the thanks goes to the amazing artist Lorena Alvarez Gómez who you can find here
I've had this book on my radar since I found Claribel on Twitter through mutuals. We invited her to speak at BookNet Fest 2018, and it was a pleasure to meet her and get all of her wonderful thoughts and experiences on our panels.
As an additional note, I read this at some time during isolation, but what is time... The read date is a place holder for "at some point between after it came out and June."
Why you may not like this book: You don't like middle grade. That might seem obvious, but I think it's worth keeping in mind the sort of humor and pacing you'll find here because it is middle grade! If that is not your jam, keep it moving.
Why I loved this book: The premise of this book was always going to be for me. A book about grief and found families set in Florida with a little Dominican girl as the main character? HELLO? SIGN ME UP. I'm so happy to say that Ortega delivers on all fronts. This was a heartwarming, fast-paced adventure that just oozes classic adventure vibes. There was something almost nostalgic about this in a way that invoked Stranger Things and The Goonies in my head. I was invested in the mystery and the stakes, and I enjoyed all of the beats of the story.
I think what really elevated this for me was how carefully and tenderly it dealt with grief. It was such an interesting duality here-- the fact that Lucely can see ghosts so that she never really loses anyone in her family, but her mother left her and it's a grief that fills her life.
I also love the role of the ghosts here. It's spooky and fun, but also an excellent way to infuse Dominican culture, not only with the lore, but with the ghosts as a personification of what that culture looks like and the stories and histories we carry in our bones and in our homes.
Another wonderful thing this book did was include its adults, but allow our characters to still have their adventures. The adults were loving and tuned in, they believed our characters and helped, but Lucely and Syd still managed to sneak out a few doors and windows.
I read this in one sitting and enjoyed my time here. I've not been reading a lot during isolation, and I'm not typically someone who can read for escapism, but this was incredibly easy to get lost in. Highly recommend for fans of middle grade adventures or if you have young readers in your life.
I had never heard of this author until the book came to my attention because of racist assholes harassing the author on Twitter. Thanks, racists!
I think many ten-year-olds would really enjoy this action-and-magic-packed adventure, and the solid friendship and family bonds of the two kids. For my taste, the plot was distractingly holey, with far too much coincidence and weakly motivated villains. This probably would have been true even when I was a kid, but I was particularly linear and critical even then.
I did like all the main characters and the authorial voice. You know, when you read something and think you'd like the author as a person? So although this wasn't a favorite for me I will certainly pick up Ortega's next book.
A really fun middle grade to read over the spooky season. It was such a quick book to get lost in and really feel immersed and definitely one of the cutest I've read all year. I just wish it had of been about a hundred pages longer so everything wasn't resolved so quickly, especially the climax where all it took was a couple of characters to say a few lines of rhyme and then there's light and then it's over. Overall, not a lot of action happened, but I liked the characters and I would definitely check out more if any sequels were to come.
I just flew through this audiobook and can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy. The storyline was full of Dominican folklore, humorous familial interactions, adventures in graveyards (and basically anywhere else the characters should not be exploring alone and after dark), a focus on emotions and how to deal with an abundance of them, and the liberal appearance of witchy supernatural and ghostly paranormal occurrences.
This is a middle grade with Paranormal and Magic. I really loved the characters, but the paranormal/magic mystery part was just not very good. The mystery part was just too simple even for a middle grade I wanted more for it. I did enjoy did with the characters so much which is why I give it 3 stars. This is a short quick read, and it is fun.
This was my second attempt at reading this because I know so many people adore this book and author, and the premise sounds so cute and fun, but even flying through the audiobook at 3x, I'm too bored to continue. :(
Lucely and her best friend, Syd, set in an adventure to save Lucely’s firefly spirits. Accidentally they may or may not wake up evil spirits instead. So now they have to combine forces with Syd’s powerful grandmother, Babette, and her fat cat, Chunk, to save their town and families.
This is such a funny and heartwarming story, a perfect mix of discussing painful feelings and having a great time with your friend. It deals with grief and loss, ghosts of course and powerful magic. And yes, this is a spooky book. To be honest, this book made me jump a couple of times. Claribel’s writing is so atmospheric, they perfectly capture the scene and feelings, I was so scared for my children. My heart was racing and I was holding the book tight and daring it to hurt me. It did hurt me. So rude. I haven’t felt like that with a book in a long time and it was wonderful. It also made me realize that spooky middle grade is the spooky that I love.
Lucely still feels heartbroken with losing her mother and her pain goes beyond the pages, it feels almost physical. Even when it’s not the center of the story, it’s a huge part of Lucely’s life. It’s done such a respectful and honest way, how Lucely can’t stop thinking that if she’s good if she does this thing right, her mother will back. Her longing and loss, it touched my heart.
Oh the characters, the characters are wonderful. I love how middle-grade can let its characters made silly jokes one page and the next pour out all the feelings and make you cry. Well, it’s also because Lucely and Syd are so honest about their love for each other and vulnerable about their feelings. I love their fierce, loyal friendship and how brave they try to be for the other. That, right there, it’s a ride or die type of friendship that’s so incredibly wonderful to see with two Black girls. Babette is the queen of the grandmothers, hands down. She gave me so much abuelita vibes, you know, the love but also the nonsense tone. Anger that it’s legendary but if it comes down to protect her grandchildren, she’ll do everything and beyond to do so. Oh yes, she reminds me so much of my abuela and I love it.
Now, Chunk, Chunk deserves all the hugs and belly rubs and all the snacks. Best cat ever. Love you, Chuck.
Relationships are a huge part of the book and it’s so well done. Be Lucely and Syd’s friendship, or Lucely’s dad, or the firefly spirits, they are so important for our main character and they gave her so much strength. These are all different relationships, of course, but there is history, love, loyalty and respect there. I do love books where relationships, especially friendship and familial, are key to our characters. I find comfort and all the fuzzy feelings, I don’t know.
And maybe everything goes back to how Latinx this book, especially Dominican. From the firefly spirits to all the Dominican food, to the ghost chanclas jokes to the important family ties, this is a book about Dominican girl for a Dominican (and Latinx) audience, and I love how unapologetic it is. Oh, it’s so wonderful to see content that I very much understand and I have experienced in middle-grade books. You know, feeling seen and represented always it’s a wonderful experience.
As a note, I’m Latinx but not Dominican, please don’t consider this review #ownvoices.
The movie adaptation of this book is gonna be an instant hit. This book is great presentation for young Latinx and African American girls. Finally they can pick up a fantasy story where they are present on the pages. And it's a fun story full of jokes, culture, and family.
Lucely has the gift of seeing spirits when others around her can only see fireflies. But those fireflies are the spirts of her abulita, her tias, her tios, and her primos who protect and watch over her. But lately strange things have been happening to them. It's almost as if they are reliving their deaths. And thing haven't been so great for her father's ghost tour business either. So Lucely enlists her best friend Syd to help fix things. Only now they may have accidentally unleashed a spell which is causing evil spirits to haunt their town.
I really liked this! What a cute, spooky, and fun read!
- Follows Lucely, a Dominican girl who, in trying to help her father, accidentally unleashes evil spirits. Together with her best friend, a chunky cat, and a witchy grandma, the group work together to right wrongs and save their town. - I loved loved loved the friendship and family themes in this book! They were so sweet and meaningful, and I loved that this book is carried by such a genuine and powerful friendship. - I loved that this was spooky!! I mean, I'm an adult and this book is for children but some of the moments were really spooky! (Which is probably the most I can handle anyway because I do not do well with spooky things.) - I also liked the strong emphasis on family, especially Lucely's many relatives and the relationship she has with her dad. - While I liked a lot of parts of it, I felt like the story, particularly towards the end, and how it developed was a little... unsteady? Some of the plot points wrapped up very quickly and didn't deliver on the build-up and climax that was promised.
HELLO I FINALLY ACTUALLY READ THIS AND IT WAS A DELIGHT!! idk when the last time I read through a whole book in one day was and ahhhh I enjoyed this so much. would do anything for babette and chunk and syd and lucely <333
I want to clarify: I'm marking this as dnf for now because I don't want to clutter my currently reading any more than it already is, but I 100% plan to come back to it, and it was very much an "I struggle with audiobooks and wasn't far enough in to be properly invested yet so I procrastinated reading it and then my scribd free trial ended" dnf, not an "I don't like this book" dnf
For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business....
Concept: ★★★★★ Pacing: ★★★ 1/2 Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Lucely Luna is lucky—for generations, her family's spirits have stayed with their living relatives in ghostly form due to the magic of the large firefly tree in Lucely's backyard. Surrounded by love from her cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmas, she loves her blended family even if, from the point of view of her neighbors, it's just her and her dad.
However, something is happening to her firefly ghost family. They're fading, and they don't feel so good. A storm is coming, they say...
Worried about her family and willing to do anything to make them whole again, Lucely teams up with her friend, Syd, and decides to cast a spell to help them out.
Except... that spell didn't work out the way she planned. In fact, she may have made things worse.
Can Lucely, Syd, and their families save St. Augustine from ghostly destruction before the Halloween festival?
My thoughts: This was such an adorable middle grade read. I had a lot of fun reading it, and can see the appeal for teachers, parents, and younger readers alike.
I'll admit, this one does not have as much crossover appeal to an older audience as some of the other middle grade stories out there. However, that's more than fine, as it DOES hit its target audience - which is the point! Lol.
Overall, if you like a) ghosts or b) middle grade wild adventures, check this one out.
Initial Thoughts: The aduio for this was so fun and I loved this fun and spooky story!
Full review also coming on my blog:
I was wanting to read this for forever and then finally got the impulse to just dive into the audio! It was absolutely PERFECT narration and I had so much fun in Lucely’s mind! There’s the perfect mix of spooky and fun that I definitely think everyone would enjoy!
I loved the incorporation of the culture with the ghost stories. I’m not an ownvoices reader so make sure to read reviews from some ownvoices reviewers! This was an action packed adventure about magic and ghosts and family and friendship! I loved the narrator and the voice of the main character. I really enjoyed the story and the spookiness as well as all the wholesome family love!
If you love to read about magic and ghosts, two kids getting into lots of trouble with a kind of clingy cat, trying to save the family business and home, and the perfect combination of mischief and spookiness you’ll definitely enjoy this fun ride!
Lucely lives happily with her father and her family’s ghosts. However, money is tight and her father has one chance left to make it up with one of their ghost tours but things go wrong. And they keep going wrong as the family ghosts start to act strangely. Lucely and her best friend Syd then go on a quest together to find a spell that could fix their problem.
I loved the family ghosts a lot, from them individually to all the interactions and different dynamics portrayed. It was heartwarming to see Lucely rely on them and have them as a support system. It was also a little sad learning that her father cannot see them anymore.
This was an enjoyable read, the characters were very lovable and I really liked the atmosphere of the book! I think the first half was the strongest for me because I started losing a bit of interest in the plot in the latter half.
The audiobook was really fun to listen to and I really enjoyed myself but I didn’t love this as much as I would’ve wanted.
October 13, 2020: Finished listening to this perfectly spooky story inspired by the Dominican folklore and all about two young best friends on an adventure involving ghosts, humour, and fun! Also, the themes of family's love and watching one's father go through a lot, made me so emotional.
I’m not sure if this was too middle grade for me or what, but I couldn’t really get into it. But then again, I was considering reading with my daughter and I don’t think she really would’ve liked it that much either. I felt like there was too much lead up and not enough action. If there had been more action packed encounters spaced throughout, and then a big ending, it may have been better. Overall not what I expected, but still a really interesting cultural take on ghosts and witches. I did love the pop culture references dropped throughout!!
July 2020: Sticking with my initial review, but adding in that I would also be okay with Babette's backstory.
April 2020: Honestly, what a treat? Friendships that are so close that's found family, check. Magical cats, check. Ghosts, check. I want to spend forever with these characters (but I'd also settle for more information on all the Goonies cats).
Too many HP references but otherwise definitely enjoyed this!
Ghost Squad is a middle grade pararnormal story about best friends Lucely and Syd. Lucely has always been able to see the ghosts of her ancestors but when something starts scaring them and makes her Mami's ghost disappear, Lucely knows she must do something. She enlists her best friend and together the two try to discover what kind of magic is affecting Lucely's family.
This was such a great story about family, both found and blood. I will never not show up for found family stories. Also magic, witches and ghosts? Oh heck yeah. This book is perfect for spooky season or if you're in a spooky mood. It's set around Halloween and there's many cemetery scenes. The atmosphere Ortega created was so eerie without being too scary for kids.
Besides the kids, the star of the show for me was Chunk, a fat tabby cat of Syd's grandmother, who accompanies the girls on several of their adventures.
Rep: Dominican female MC, Black female side character, elderly Black female side character, Dominican male side character, various Latine side characters (ghosts).
Listening to Ghost Squad audiobook is quite an experience! It was a lovely and spooky read. I’m pretty sure that many children out there would love this book just fine!
THINGS I LOVE THE MOST: Considering that I listened to the audiobook, it was such a pleasing narration! Lucely’s and Syd’s friendship, I’m really fond of them. Friendship is the theme of the book and I honestly love every interaction in between Lucely and Syd. The fireflies and Lucely’s love for them. Every spirit has their own personality and Lucely loves them unconditionally. These spirits, of course, play a large role in shaping Lucely’s personality. The complexity of Lucely’s relationship with her father. I love reading about family dynamics, especially if it's written honestly without sugarcoating. Who doesn’t love Chunk?!
Lucely Luna is a 12 year old that can see ghosts, and surrounded by the ghosts of her family she finds happiness and love. When an incident at her father’s Ghost Tour threatens to separate her from her loved ones, Lucely and her best friend Syd Faires try to solve the mystery together. With the help of Babette the Witch The Ghost Squad must find out what evil is trying to take over her town and the lost spirits that reside there.
─── ･ ｡ﾟ☆: *.☽ .* :☆ﾟ. ─── My Thoughts:
I remember going to the bookstore multiple times before the release date looking for this book and now that it’s finally out I can scream about the adorable cover and the equally adorable contents of this novel. It was like reading a Middle Grade Scooby Doo adventure solely for Black and Brown readers, and the way that Claribel Ortega portrayed Dominican culture was nothing short of beautiful. From Mamá Terese, to Manny, Tía Milagros and every single ghost family member in-between, the cast was a knockout and the audiobook was great at setting the atmosphere.
The worldbuilding in this story was very well done and I need a prequel of Las Brujas Moradas and the Luna Family stories before I implode. It was also a story about how the ones you love never really leave you, Lucely found a home in her friends and her fireflies after her Mother left and it helped her grow in ways she never realized. The look into how poverty can affect children was also something I rarely see portrayed in books but Lucely was happy and grateful for what she had and was content with the love of her friends and family.
Can I scream about Babette the Witch and Chunk for a moment? If Babette doesn’t get a spin off series for the badass powerful Grandma that runs the whole game it will be an injustice. Babette was a great guide to the girls throughout the story and the magic that she brought to the story was everything. Chunk is one of Babette’s magical companions who provides cute and comical moments when it gets a bit spooky but wait until the end! Chunk really shows everyone who the star of the story is. Is it completely obvious that I’m obsessed with this book?
─── ･ ｡ﾟ☆: *.☽ .* :☆ﾟ. ─── Wrap-Up:
I don’t think I could find a flaw with this story even if I tried, it was the perfect spooky, Halloween centered, escape. I was sad when the story was over because it was one of those books that become a warm hug while you’re reading it. Latinx + Black readers every where can find themselves represented in this book and messaging back and forth with the author really made me appreciate their work that much more. Please go pick up this book, I’m going to be re-reading it a ton before the year is over.
“ I received a review copy from Amazon Vine and voluntarily provided an honest review. This does not affect the opinion of the book or the content of the review.’’
I really enjoyed this story written by Claribel Ortega even though I am not the intended target audience. The book was nicely written, family focused and introduce me into a new culture filled with a rich history. While reading, I felt like I was in the story fighting along with the squad. Some but not many of the phrases are written in Spanish so I did have to break out Google translate but that made the story even more interesting. It was nice reading about Lucely and Syd being kids running around on bikes and having adventures. Reminds me of my youth. This would be a nice book to read around Halloween.
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**
Claribel A. Ortega’s debut novel, Ghost Squad, is a delightful middle grade with lots of heart and a cast of character that is sure to charm readers of every age. Lucely Luna is just like any twelve-year girl, she likes hanging out with her best friend, Syd, and spending time with her family. Only most of her family are ghosts and she’s the only one who can see them. When Lucely discovers that her dad may not have the money to keep their house and something odd begins happening to her ghost family, she’s determined to help on both fronts. But her plans take a frightening turn when Lucely, along with her best friend Syd, stumble upon an evil plan by the mayor himself to take over St. Augustine and steal the townspeople’s souls! Now Lucely and Syd, along with a suspiciously shrewd cat named Chunk, must figure out a way to stop him before it’s too late.
Ghost Squad is a great reminder that middle grade novels are some of the most engaging and heartfelt reads you will ever pick up. The most important thing to Lucely is her family and it is this bond that drives the story. Her father is a single parent who works hard to provide a good home life for her. His ghost tours haven’t had the kind of buzz he was hoping for, but the last thing he wants is for Lucely to worry about their finances. The rest of Lucely’s family is a different kind of special. Inspired by Dominican folklore, family members who’ve passed appear as firelies, called cocuyos, and are tied to the magical willow tree on Lucely’s family property. They also appear as ghosts, but only to Lucely’s young eyes. From her grandmother, Mamá Teresa to her long line of cousins, Lucely’s family is unconventional but fierce and loving. When Lucely discovers that something is amiss and she may lose the connection she has with her family for good, she will stop at nothing to make sure they are safe. She’s brave and little reckless, but her heart is always in the right place. Syd is Lucely’s best friend and I immediately took a liking to her. Not only is she sassy, she is also willing to do anything for her friend. Her vast knowledge of all things paranormal ends up being a big help in their quest to defeat the nefarious spirits who plan to take over their town. It was hard not to love these two girls. I was delighted with their saucy conversations and inability to avoid getting into trouble.
My favorite character by far is Syd’s grandmother, Babette, who steals the show every moment she’s on the page. Owner of an eccentric occult shop, there have always been whispers about whether or not she could be a witch. Though the girls believe they can sneak out and wander cemeteries without any of the adults in their life noticing, Babette is much smarter than either of them realize. I love that she takes the girls under her wing and shows them you should never underestimate a grandmother. And, of course, one must not forget Chunk, one of Babette’s cats, who has some strong opinions even for a cat. She made the best reluctant animal companion.
With playful dialogue and fun characters, Claribel A. Ortega’s Ghost Squad is an unforgettable debut that will thrill and bewitch readers.