Lumberjanes: Ghost Cabin

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

Unicorn Power! | The Moon is Up | The Good Egg

Ghost Cabin was written by Mariko Tamaki and first published in 2019. It forms the fourth instalment of the Lumberjanes series of novels, which in turn is based on the comic book series of the same name. The novel follows on from where Unicorn Power! (2017), The Moon is Up (2018) and The Good Egg (2018) left off, so you really need to read the books in sequence to fully appreciate them.

When Molly receives a care package from her mother that consists of nothing more than enormous stack of homework, Mal knows that she needs to do something to raise her girlfriend’s spirits. Taking inspiration from a ghost story about a haunted cabin and her own missing socks, she weaves a great mystery that is sure to take Molly’s mind off things. After all, no Lumberjane can resist a quest.

Their investigation soon takes them to a long-deserted cabin on the edge of Lake Specter and it is there that they meet Deborah, Maggie, Heddie and Claudia – the spirits of four former Lumberjanes. The girls have been spirits for as long as they can remember and stole Mal’s socks for a reason. They have been watching the Roanoke scouts in their adventures and want their help to earn some badges of their own.

Yet, as the Lumberjanes get closer to the ghosts, Mal and Molly start to notice that something is a amiss. Claudia does not seem to be as enthusiastic as her friends and Molly is quick to empathise with her plight. As Claudia shares with them the truth about her past and her dreams for the future, Molly realises that it is her duty to help the ghost to find happiness. However, Claudia’s cabin mates are not quite so understanding…

While I am still a huge fan of the Lumberjanes comics, I must admit that I was a little disappointed by this novel. While The Good Egg felt like an improvement on the earlier instalments, Ghost Cabin unfortunately shared some of the same problems that I had with Unicorn Power! and The Moon is Up.

Ghost Cabin took a long time to find its focus, meandering through a vague subplot of missing socks and random badge-earning for almost a hundred pages before the ghosts first appeared. I really struggled to get into these early chapters primarily due to the dialogue. This just felt somewhat choppy and anarchic, rapidly flipping between the different girls’ perspectives with little warning and absolutely filled with puns. And, boy, do I mean filled. April is particularly guilty of this as every other sentence that she speaks in this novel is a pun. While this is something that works in the comics, I did feel that it was less effective in novel format

However, there are still some things about this novel that I love. Like all Lumberjanes stories, it promotes a clear message of friendship, kindness and loyalty in the form of a feel-good adventure with a very diverse cast. Ghost Cabin also contains a couple of nice scenes which subtly explain the importance of respecting someone’s chosen pronouns and the difference between sex and gender in a way that is very easy for a pre-teen reader to grasp. Take for example this lovely little passage:

Deborah looked at April quizzically. ‘What is a…Hardcore Lady-Type?’

‘It’s people who are…’ April considered. ‘It’s people who are the most of who they are, who feel like they can be that most…here. A LADY-TYPE, that’s for anyone who is a lady-type. It’s an open invitation to anyone who wants to be awesome.’

This is a really nice little exchange which captures both the empowerment and the inclusiveness of being a Lumberjane.

The story also picks up picks up speed nicely in its second act and is never frightening, despite its ghostly theme. The novel, while not as action-packed as The Good Egg, still has a lot of heart and does build to a very emotional climax. It also had the feel of a final instalment for this series as, while there is still scope for the Lumberjanes to have more adventures together, there has now been a novel which focused on each of the protagonists. I am very curious to see if Tamaki will take her story further from here.

Yet, in terms of characterisation, I did feel that Ghost Cabin had a few problems. This instalment was very much Mal and Molly’s show. While the novel does a good job of filling in the reader on their backstories from the comic (particularly Molly’s hyper-critical mother), I did not feel that the plot thread concerning Molly’s homework and desire to remain at the camp went anywhere.

I was also a little annoyed that the story seemed to go out of its way to not openly state that Mal and Molly are a couple. While Ghost Cabin ended with a sketch of the two in a heart-shaped bubble, this is a far cry from the comic in which they shared a kiss some time ago. While you can certainly read this into the story, I felt that it would have been beneficial to emphasise it as it could easily be overlooked.

The other girls do not contribute so much to the story this time around, but their characters are still well defined. From the energetic Ripley to the quiet and intelligent Jo, there really is a Lumberjane for everyone and I’m sure that all readers will be able to find themselves in this story. The ghostly characters also all have distinct personalities and learn a clear lesson about friendship as the story progresses, yet I did feel that Maggie could have done with a bit of further development. Her rude behaviour is addressed early on, but she remains grumpy and frequently insults the other characters by shouting vegetable names at them. It felt very odd to introduce these two striking character traits and then never do anything with them.

So, I think that’s about all that I have to say. While I did think that Ghost Cabin was the weakest of the four novels to date, it still does have some fun moments and will particularly appeal to fans of the comics. I don’t know if Tamaki plans to continue this series, but I will certainly be reading on if she does.

Lumberjanes: Ghost Cabin can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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