With a bold spirit and a nose for a good mystery, one ghostly adventure was never going to be enough for young Jack Alexander. In Freeing Linhurst: Into the Tunnels, author Al Cassidy breathes fresh life into his courageous characters – Jack and Celia – from the first book in the series.
Two years have passed since they first delved into the secrets of Linhurst State School and Hospital, and both have dealt with their first fantastical foray in different ways. Jack has been tormented by the memories of Linhurst, from merciless teasing at school to haunting dreams that threaten his grip on reality. Celia may not have the same cruel demons to exorcise, but she still struggles to put those past horrors behind her.
Unfortunately, their heroic task to protect Spring Dale is far from over, and once again, both find themselves drawn back to that terrifying institution when a new mystery arises. Running directly into the face of a dangerous curse, Celia falls prey to the dark energy in the deep tunnels of Linhurst, leaving Jack to rise to the heroic occasion. With the words of his therapist still ringing in his ears, Jack fights desperately to overcome his deepest fears.
Cassidy is much more confident in his character development in this sophomore effort, largely thanks to the successful platform he created in the first installment. Familiar faces reappear in this story, in addition to new allies and ambiguous players who add even more suspense and intrigue to the novel. Now that his core characters are a few years older, their interactions are also more mature, as is their capacity for self-awareness and reflection. It takes a sensitive and talented author to evolve character voices in small, yet noticeable ways, but Cassidy handles their growth well. The connection between Jack’s dreams and the town’s real-world drama is another clever plot tool, suggesting that he may not always be the most reliable narrator, a rare choice in a YA book.
In the spirit of so many other youthful adventures, Cassidy successfully makes the teenage protagonists seem far more capable than the adults around them, a perennially empowering choice for a YA author. Readers of any age can appreciate the supernatural whimsy of this book, but the target audience will additionally benefit from the inspiring growth of Jack and Celia. They are not only best friends who overcome adversity through positivity and teamwork, but also great guideposts for young readers struggling through the complicated trials of high school.
As is the case in the first book of the series, Cassidy finds a good balance between appealing to a youthful target audience and creating a captivating, multi-layered plot. There are some chapters that read more like a children’s book, while the fast-paced, action-heavy sections feel more advanced, as though Cassidy is more comfortable with crafting that type of content. The most problematic area is the dialogue, which often feels forced or unnatural, designed to progress the plot, rather than represent a genuine moment between characters.
Overall, Freeing Linhurst: Into the Tunnels is as strong an effort as the first book in the series, with an added layer of maturity that is the perfect evolution for readers who have grown with the characters from middle grade to young adult fiction.