Adventure for Girls: Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
Joseph Bruchac's Skeleton Man is a classic suspense thriller melded with a monster tale drawn from Native American legend. The novel begins in media res with middle-schooler Molly narrating how she came to be held prisoner each night by a skeletal old man claiming to be her great uncle.
When Molly's parents fail to return home after a Saturday evening out, Molly is initially in a state of denial, hiding their disappearance from her school and her parents' employers and praying that they will return. When the truth becomes evident, Molly is horrified when the authorities hand her over to tall, scary man of whom she had never heard but who presents credentials and old family photos as proof of kinship to local social workers.
As she is taken away by the strange man, Molly cannot help thinking of her mother's retelling of an old Mohawk story of a lazy greedy uncle who first ate his own flesh from his bones and then one by one consumes his family. When the old man's bizarre behavior and nightly trip upstairs to lock Molly into her bedroom begins to terrify her, Molly falls back on her family's teachings of courage and begins to plan her escape.
Snooping while her so-called uncle is away, Molly discovers surveillance monitoring on his computer and realizes that the outside doors and perhaps her own room have cameras planted in them. Carefully, praying that her frightening dreams will guide her, Molly plans her escape. On Friday, when computer installers leave their tool kits in her classroom, Molly takes a drill home with her, and when she knows her "uncle" is paying his nightly visit to his tool shed outside, she removes the hinges from her door to escape. Quickly collecting computer disks and printed evidence from his office, Molly slips out of the house into the moonlit night.
Once concealed outside, Molly throws a stone through her bedroom window to lure the "uncle" inside and rushes into the shed, where she quickly locates an underground cage where her parents are held captive. Passing the tools to her father to help them escape, Molly flees through the woods toward the river with the old man not far behind.
As in her dreams, a rabbit breaks out of the underbrush and seems to lead her toward a rickety footbridge across the river rapids. As Skeleton Man draws closer and closer, Molly's only hope is to follow the "spirit guide" represented by the rabbit and the daring plan revealed by her dream.
Bruchac combines the horror of a supernatural stalker with details of modern technology in a riveting fantasy horror tale and a modern crime story believable on both levels. A resourceful heroine who refuses to become a victim, Molly is an appealing and plausible character as Bruchac ably weaves her Native American background seamlessly into a page-turning thriller. As R. L. Stine (best known for his best-selling Goosebumps series) wrote of this novel, "The legend is chilling--and the terror builds on every page. This book gave ME nightmares!"
Molly's story is continued in Bruchac's 2006 sequel The Return of Skeleton Man. Taken together, these two middle-school mystery-fantasies are great for readalouds, sleepovers, campouts, and just plain flashlight reading under the covers!