REVIEW: Steinbeck’s Ghost by Lewis Buzbee

Cover image of Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee 66. Steinbeck’s Ghost by Lewis Buzbee
Publication: Feiwel & Friends (September 2, 2008), Hardcover, 352pp / ISBN 0312373287
Genre: MG/YA Fiction, Magical Realism

Read: July 4, 2011
Source: Paperback Swap

Summary from Amazon:

It’s been two months since Travis’s family moved to a development so new that it seems totally unreal. His parents are working harder now, to pay for it all, and Travis is left to fend for himself.

There’s one place, though, where Travis can still connect with his old life: the Salinas library. Travis and his family used to go there together every Saturday, but now he bikes to it alone, re-reading his favorite books.

It’s only natural that Travis likes the work of author John Steinbeck—after all, Salinas is Steinbeck’s hometown. But that can’t explain why Travis is suddenly seeing Steinbeck’s characters spring to life. There’s the homeless man in the alley behind the library, the line of figures at the top of a nearby ridge, the boy who writes by night in an attic bedroom. Travis has met them all before—as a reader. But why are they here now? And how?

As Travis struggles to solve this mystery, budget cuts threaten his library. And so, he embarks on a journey through Steinbeck’s beautiful California landscape, looking for a way to save his safe haven. It’s only then that he begins to sort out fact from fiction, discovering the many ways a story can come alive—and stumbling into a story Steinbeck might have started, and Travis needs to complete.

Here is a mystery that delves deeply into the ways that books take us, one at a time, out into the vast world.


This review has taken me AGES to figure out how to write, mostly because it’s about one of those books that I love a lot and my words just disappear when trying to describe it and I’m left hugging it tightly and rocking in a corner somewhere. It’s just…great! Fantastic! Wonderful! You know? No superlative really fits, because it’s all those things but in a really quiet way.

Steinbeck’s Ghost isn’t one of those “hey I am so awesome come and read me” kind of books. It reminds me of E.L. Konigsburg’s books, really, with the friendship and the loving libraries and the kid characters who are just slightly smarter than you’d think they’d be. And the quiet awesomeness of it all. It’s also got a toe dipped into the magical realism genre, which is neat.

Photo of author Lewis Buzbee
The author

I think this is really a book for people who love books. People who don’t love books might enjoy it (although why they’d read a book in the first place if they didn’t like books is a question I can’t answer) but I don’t think they’ll get everything. Steinbeck’s Ghost is a bit like an inside joke to book lovers, only without the joke part. If you’ve ever been a nerdy little bookworm who preferred to read during recess than run around screaming, this book is for you. It’s like a big book-y hug just for you and/or your inner 11-year-old.

Also, if you like Steinbeck you’d like this book. I haven’t read any Steinbeck things and in fact I told people at BEA that all his books sounded really boring. I am sorry, people at BEA! I was wrong, because the way they’re presented in this book, they sound like the most awesome books ever.

So: I really liked this book. Not only did it make me feel all warm and fuzzy, but it’s got great characters with layers and LAYERS, a mystery, adventure, slightly spooky stuff, nice things to say about libraries and friendship and books, and some really excellent writing. Definitely recommend this book, y’all.


It’s basically perfect. I can’t even think of anything negative to say.


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Other reviews

Becky’s Book Reviews: “Yes, the book has its strange moments. Moments when he’s being “haunted” (or prompted) by Steinbeck’s fictional characters. But the book is just as much about Travis discovering himself as it is about him discovering the world of books and also discovering the world around him. There is a certain authenticity captured in the pages of this book.”

Confuzzled Books: “There was nothing about this book I did not like. It’s a book encouraging young kids to read books. And unlike some books that mention other books, this one does not leave you feeling left out if you have not read the books mentioned. It describes the books, the feel of them and the basics of the story. It made me want to read the books mentioned.”


I got my copy from PBS, like I said up there. But guess what? It’s been autographed by the author!! Can you believe it? That was a lovely thing to discover. I ♥ signed books, especially by authors whose books I enjoy reading. And a secretly-autographed book is even better!

6 thoughts on “REVIEW: Steinbeck’s Ghost by Lewis Buzbee”

    1. Actually, I think we may have done something with Of Mice and Men, but I didn’t read it. I was very good at dodging my assigned reading and enjoying my own books, haha!

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