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What do imaginary friends, nervous tics, and a love of black licorice have in common?

“A chill crept up her spine, like a skeleton’s fingers counting each vertebra, one by one until it reached the base of her skull, where it spread open its bony hand across her scalp” (8).

Did you ever catch yourself biting your fingernails, twisting your hair, gnawing on your lips, or fiddling with your fingers? These habits happen without thinking, often when a person feels nervous, anxious, or even scared. But they’re harmless enough, I mean, everyone has some sort of nervous tic, don’t they? R.J. McDowell, the author of "Agatha Anxious and the Deer Island Ghost" challenges this notion, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, these common nervous tics mean something more.

On her thirteenth birthday, Agatha Anxious learns about a family secret linking her with her Aunt Hattie in a way she never imagined. But it’s a secret that not even her parents can know about! Hattie and Agatha are both Perceivers, tasked with the ability to see and help ghosts. Aunt Hattie gnaws the insides of her cheeks. Agatha bites at her nails. These nervous tics identify them as Perceivers… well, the nervous tics combined with the fact that they both like black licorice. But not everyone who has such traits are Perceivers.

Shortly after Agatha Anxious learns about her gift, she encounters her first ghost who greets her using scrabble tiles to spell, “ILIKEYOURDOG.” Whew! This one is friendly! She’d been warned that not all ghosts are friendly. But what does this one need? Will she be able to help it find peace? Trying to go about her other daily tasks of doing laundry, completing homework, and writing school book reports, she knows Aunt Hattie cannot help this ghost for her. She must be brave.

Then, when Aunt Hattie goes missing, Agatha Anxious enlists the help of her friend, Leopold Panic – who frequently bites his lip and tucks his hair behind his ear – to help discover what happened to her aunt while helping her first ghost find peace. A white cat with a unique symbol on its chest. A mysterious coin lost behind a curtain in a masquerade shop. Are they linked with Aunt Hattie’s disappearance? Are any of her other friends Perceivers?

Agatha Anxious must put aside the distraction of her missing Aunt Hattie, and focus on her mission to help her ghost. Will everything fall into place as it should? Will she be able to find peace for her ghost and for herself?

R.J. McDowell creates a flawlessly eerie world in which her characters interact. She builds suspense effortlessly, with the end of each chapter insisting you read the next... and the next. But what I like most about "Agatha Anxious and the Deer Island Ghost" is how the author ties various, seemingly disconnected events together in the end; it felt like watching a puzzle being pieced together before my eyes with pieces that I didn’t realize could fit together, but it all made up an eerily beautiful picture in the end, making me want more.

Agatha Anxious and the Deer Island Ghost is the first book in the Dead Fellow Five series by R.J. McDowell, scheduled to be published September 2022 by Crumblebee Books. It is a must-read Middle Grade Horror/Ghost story.

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