This book took a little bit to get into, but once I did, I loved it! The author has what was at first a slightly-jarring way of dropping fantastical elements into an everyday world we all recognize. But as the ground rules were revealed, it grew on me and I really enjoyed the plot.
Twelve-year-old Elatsoe's world is much like ours, but the Lipan Apache monsters and creatures of myth have shaped it so that things like a cousin who's a new vampire is no real threat -- not yet, not this early in the disease -- and walking with animal ghosts and descending into the realm of the dead is something to be concerned about, but not overtly feared.
That's Elatsoe's ability, to swim with pods of ghost whales and trilobites in an ocean that ceased to exist millennia ago and still be able to breathe and ascend to the land of the living on her own. Her dog's ghost is her constant companion, and gets more and more solid as she grows into her powers, testing them and how far, how deep, she can go in the land of ghosts.
The plot kicks in when she learns a cousin has been killed in a car accident. But he comes to Elatsoe, ever so briefly with a message, and while she turns him away, his infant son cannot resist his father, giving the ghost a portal into our world. Elatsoe knows his death was no accident. It was murder.
To dwell on the dead is to give them shape and form, power in the land of the living until they've accomplished whatever goal they set. And human ghosts, unlike animal ones, are nothing but power and rage, uncontrollable, single-minded revenge. Even Elatsoe's terrified of what can happen, what will happen.
The story then is a race -- can Elatsoe figure out who killed her cousin, how and why, before the ghost can get to the murderer and anyone around him who participated in the soul-sucking, centuries-old vampirism that keeps them alive? The whole town?
Interestingly, it was labeled "Teen," the equivalent of YA (young adult) by my library. I can only guess that's because it deals with death, grief, and vampires and vengeful ghosts in a realistic setting (sorta?), but I'd say it's totally for an upper middle grade (MG) reader. This was a super-good fantasy read, one I highly recommend. I'd love to read a sequel. Enjoy!