It wasn't the summer Darren had expected. It wasn't the summer he might have imagined, or even dreamed about. It was the strangest summer of his life.

To begin with, when they got to Uncle Will's house, he was gone. The note he left just said that he'd be away for a few days. But why would he leave when his two brothers, his sister, his nieces and his nephew were coming for their annual two-week visit?

That changed the hunt—it wasn't about following clues to a buried treasure—it was to find Uncle Will, and the note he'd left turned out to be the first clue. The hunt was a game Uncle Will had created years ago, to distract Jackie, Darren, and Kini while the adults played endless games of poker or sat up late at night drinking and telling stories. But Will took it just as seriously as the kids did, and he made it more challenging every year.

The poker games changed too, when Darren and Jackie discovered that their father, their uncle and their aunt could cast their shadows, let them slip out of their bodies to peek at the other players' cards. There was a reason why the three of them always won.

And Jackie and Darren changed too, when they realized that they could do the same thing, and had been doing it for years, without being aware of it. It was why one of them always found the next clue in the hunt, while Kini never did. They just hadn't realized they were sending out their shadows to search for them. It was how Darren walked into the local library and found the one book that had his name in it, without ever looking for it. 

But that's not the strangest thing that happened. Uncle Aiden found warm ashes in the fireplace when he got to the house. Uncle Will had burned his journal and all his notes on the Mananann family genealogy, information he'd spent years researching. Why would he burn all that hard work, and why was Darren's dad so upset about it? 

And then there was the scary old man who smelled like rotting pumpkins, looked like a skeleton, and stalked Darren, Jackie, and Kini all over town. Why was he following them? And when they hid in the library, why did the strange gestures Gert, the librarian, was making force him to leave? It looked like she was spelling very fast in sign language. 

What does it all mean? How does it all fit together? What secrets have the Mananann family been keeping? It wasn't going to be the summer Darren had expected—it was going to be much, much stranger and far more dangerous.

This booktalk was written by university professor, librarian, and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.