The Haunted Horn is an entertaining, sharp ghost story with a setting and characters that many kids will easily relate to. Although the target audience is a bit young for my tastes, I would recommend it to any middle school reader who enjoys modern adventure with a bit of spookiness mixed in.
The story follows Alex Mitchell, an awkward, skinny boy troubled by both the malevolence of a school bully and the indifference of his own distant father. Alex finds the titular horn at an estate auction and, while trying to impress a rebellious girl named Annie, ends up loosing a supernatural presence that wrecks increasing amounts of havoc on his town each night. It’s up to Alex and Annie to figure out the mystery of the haunted horn and placate the ghosts they’ve unleashed, if bullies and overbearing parents don’t stop them first.
With more than 40 books to his name, Willett is clearly no dilettante. His polished prose and excellent characterization make Horn a fun, quick read. Kids will enjoy the convincing small-town America setting, and the troubles Alex has making friends and dealing with bullies will likely seem familiar as well.
That being said, I do have an issue with the way The Haunted Horn was presented to me as “YA,” because after reading it, I’m finding that categorization to be a bit of a stretch. One might make an argument that young adult fiction can cover ages as low as 12, but the fact remains that most junior high schoolers would find this book exceedingly tame (heck, my nearly 13 year old niece likes The Hunger Games, for Pete’s sake). And I don’t just mean in terms of language or sexual/violent content, either; Horn’s ghosts are not especially scary or threatening, and the plot itself takes few risks. While I’m sure many middle schoolers (or their parents) will count these attributes as a positive, actual young adults (or the young adult at heart) may want to look elsewhere.
One last complaint: the book presented to me did not contain chapter markers in its status bar or a table of contents, so readers who like to see when they are nearing the end of a chapter should be warned that they are in for an irritating time.
Score: Four (colorized) Lassie reruns out of five.