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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Lost Carnival by Andy DeJong is a Wintervale Tale. Toby Larkin is the new kid in the small town of Wintervale and it hasn't been easy to make friends when he's always been a little bit weird and his dad won't drop his baby nickname of "Tobster." He soon meets Beth who seems to actually want to be his friend. Then he discovers the Wayward Grove Forest, also known as the Wayward Ghost Grove, which is said to be haunted. When his curiosity drives him to explore the forest, he finds an abandoned carnival that is beyond everything he imagined and is everything he loves about carnivals. As the carnival draws him in deeper, he meets the performers who are a group of kids that actually seem interested in him and want him to be part of the fun. His new friends are a little on the weird side with strange clothing, an affinity for the dark, and each of them is unusually pale, which leads to the only logical conclusion he could think of: they're ghosts. But worse than that, they want his soul.
The story weaves a ghost tale about friendship and being yourself as Toby learns that it's okay to like carnivals and be different from everyone else. Wintervale offers Toby a chance to start anew. It is a town with secrets lurking, which creates magic, wonder, and adventure. The story is full of mystery which runs through the plot and surrounds the abandoned carnival, which has secrets of its own. Toby digs deeper into the kids and the connection they have to an asylum with a dive into history that unveils shocking truths about the carnival ringleader Dr. Shoemaker, an evil skeleton with a sinister quest to steal Toby's soul. The story balances the mystery elements within the carnival with heart that stems from helping these children trapped in the forests. Andy DeJong creates a ghost story with the wonder of carnivals, the journey of finding yourself, and the need for friendship and belonging, and more in the magic of Lost Carnival.