Welcome to our first guest post by writer Jude Deluca.
Deluca has written extensively on middle grade and YA horror for Point Horror and Wicked Horror. Deluca’s fiction has been published by Arledge Comics, Band of Bards, Two Gargoyles Comics, the Crow’s Quill, and Alien Buddha Press.
Despite popular belief, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps was not the start nor the end of young adult horror fiction, though it did help popularize it. The 1990s saw the birth of a submarket of serialized YA horror books, such as Spooksville, Strange Matter, and one of my all time favorites, Graveyard School.
Written by Nola Thacker under the pen name “Tom B. Stone” (get it?), Graveyard School was published by Bantam Books under Skylark Press in 1994. Skylark also released Bebe Faas Rice’s Doomsday Mall and the Choose Your Own Nightmare series.
The town of Grove Hill is a pleasant little place to live, if you don’t mind that its only elementary school is right next to an abandoned graveyard. Grove Hill School is referred to as Graveyard School by its students. Of course that’s not the only reason for the nickname.
Weird things happen at Graveyard School. Terrifying things. Things that can’t be explained. Is Graveyard Hill the reason for the school’s hauntings? Or is to the intimidating school principal who may or may not have a silver fang? The kids don’t know, and they don’t want to know. All they want is to survive long enough to graduate.
Spanning 28 books, Graveyard School was a rare YA horror series to take place in the same setting with a sense of continuity. While the timeline’s difficult to figure out, past books are regularly referenced, and some personal storylines continued. This allowed for a rare opportunity to see characters subtly develop over time.
The central focus of the series is Graveyard School’s sixth graders, who are on the cusp of graduating and finally being free of the school’s malevolence. After six years in the place, the kids have gained some savviness regarding the evil educational facility. However, because the bulk of the incidents happen to only the sixth graders, it feels like the school itself has waited until they’re almost gone to finally make a move.
Or maybe the sixth graders are the only kids willing to do something about it.
Not even going on vacation can ensure the kids safety. Whether it’s going to summer camp or visiting relatives far out of town, the kids still find themselves facing supernatural threats. In some instances, the haunting initially takes root in Grove Hill before it follows the kid to their destination. Graveyard School continually plants the seed that horror can grow in a foreign environment.
I first discovered Graveyard School at an elementary school book fair when I happened to purchase #10: There’s A Ghost In The Boy’s Bathroom. In 2004, just as I began high school, I managed to win an eBay auction containing the bulk of the series. By 2008 I had the entire collection.
In 2017, I started a series of Graveyard School recaps on Point Horror because I was tired of waiting for someone else to talk about it.
To be honest, I consider Graveyard School to be better than Goosebumps. Don’t get me wrong, I love Goosebumps as much as the next guy. What keeps me coming back to Graveyard School is Nola Thacker’s use of characterization and the colorful, bizarre creatures running rampant in her books.
A skateboard-riding skeleton. A lunch lady making meals out of stolen pets. A claw-handed Santa and a twisted great aunt. A spider that grants wishes.
It’s the kids of Graveyard School which really make the books so much fun. Thacker doesn’t try to talk down to her audience. The sixth graders don’t act like little kids, but at the same time they’re not little adults. Spending your childhood in a haunted school can make you a bit world weary. While they also tend to be heroic, they’re not flawless and can act like jerks from time to time.
But when the chips are down, they’ll ultimately stick by each other and do the right thing if they feel they absolutely need to. And if no one else is willing.
The first book, Don’t Eat The Mystery Meat, introduces what can be considered the core Graveyard School cast. Baseball enthusiast Park Addams, professional dog walker Stacey Carter, Alexander “Jaws” Bennett (the boy who will eat anything – even roadkill), Maria Medina and her collection of oversized rugby shirts, and puke perfect Polly Hannah.
Park and Stacey are perhaps the most reliable of the Graveyard School kids. They’re the ones who investigate the source of the new lunch lady’s disgusting meals, and take it upon themselves to rescue Jaws when they realize she’s kidnapped him for her next dish.
Polly Hannah, meanwhile, is unrepentantly obnoxious and the type of character you love to hate. While she never gets a starring role and doesn’t usually advance the plot, her absence would leave a significant hole in the series. It wouldn’t be Graveyard School without rigid Polly, dressed in shades of pink, pale blue, and butter yellow like a knockoff Barbie, shamelessly brown-nosing even the most terrifying teachers while lording her supposed superiority over her classmates.
That said, while Polly is legit awful, she isn’t really a villain or a bully. She’s the resident jerk whom most of the kids can’t stand but have grown used to. And even Polly has some standards to how far she’ll suck up.
Opposite the kids are the dreaded school principal Dr. Morthouse, capable of making first graders sob for their lives just by looking at them, and the sweaty-handed Vice Principal Hannibal Lucre. Morthouse makes for a unique villain. Nothing’s ever revealed of her past and origin, if she’s a byproduct of Graveyard Hill’s evil or the leader. She’s always there, keeping watch over the school and its students. While she’s undoubtedly evil, she’s also somewhat benign.
At the end of the day Morthouse is more determined to keep order, though even teachers aren’t safe from her wrath. Meanwhile, Vice Principal Lucre can be counted on to try and fail to convince the kids that school is cool.
Then there’s Basement Bart, the mysterious, army-fatigued dressed janitor. No one ever sees him until a mess is made, and it’s implied he lives in the labyrinthine catacombs beneath the school.
Some of the later classmates established in the following books are: skateboard pros Ryan “Skate” McGraw and his delightfully neon-colored cousin Vickie Wheilson, grumpy Marc Foster and his perky twin Terri, science wiz David Pike and his dino-obsessed little brother Richie, perpetually unlucky Skip Wolfson and his weird little brother Mark, soccer star Tyson Walker, delivery boy and pitcher extraordinaire Algernon “Algie” Greene, practical joker Bentley Jeste, class president Kirstin Bjorg, former class prez and bully Jason Dunnbar, and my absolute favorite the wonderfully sarcastic Jordie “The Human Computer” Flanders.
Little School Of Horrors, the third to last book in the series, introduces an entire cast of new characters in the mysterious Mrs. Storch’s homeroom. Newcomer Blue Russell starts to think the kids in his class may all be monsters, with such variety you’d think Thacker was trying to start a spin-off about this specific group of kids. It’s a shame they only appeared in this one book, especially hotheaded Ginger the dragon girl.
Thacker’s kids show a surprising amount of depth and consideration for the world around them. Several books feature subtle discussions about environmentalism and consumerism. Skip Wolfson frequently specifies that his parents run a pet supply store and arrange for abandoned and rescued animals to find better homes. The pet store business is openly lambasted as harmful, and people who abuse animals are considered scum.
Most of the kids in Slime Lake are visibly disgusted when they learn the titular lake has been remade into the Emerald Shores Recreation Area due to how tacky and over-the-top the concession areas become. Animal lover Stacey’s especially angry that wannabee capitalist George Quayle wants to bulldoze the nearby swamp and wetlands to build condos.
Soccer parents are also mocked in Scream Team when Tyson Walker sees firsthand how obsessed the moms and dads of rival Belville Academy are when it comes to their kids winning.
A lot of what makes the horror of Graveyard School work relies on what isn’t revealed. Aside from the ongoing mystery of the evil’s source, some of the villains have motives shrouded in mystery. Ben Marrow, the titular Skeleton on the Skateboard, and the third book’s Headless Bicycle Rider, are prime examples of this.
When Skate McGraw almost enters a Faustian deal with Ben Marrow, we’re never told where Ben came from or why he’s into skateboarding. Likewise, it’s heavily implied Skate’s rival Eddie Hoover took the deal Skate’s cousin Vickie prevented him from making. The book ends with a literal skateboarding duel down Dead Man’s Curve as Skate must outrace death itself to save himself and stop Eddie from losing his soul.
All in all, Graveyard School is an underrated gem that deserves far more attention than it received. While it was lucky to get an illustrated Russian adaption in recent years there’s been no sign of the series being rereleased in English.