Kip Campbell doesn't see dead people -- he just hears them. They share their final wishes with him, and he then helps them (sometimes reluctantly) complete unfinished business. Kip's story begins in The Funeral Director's Son and continues in Kip Campbell's Gift, both of which are suitable for upper elementary and middle school readers.
Being the son of a funeral director has given Kip plenty of grief - no pun intended. When the series begins, he has yet to share his gift with his family members or his friends, preferring to help the dead in his own quiet way. While listening to the requests of the dead and the concerns of their loved ones, Kip learns that there's more to people than meets the eye. More than once, his opinion of a person changes for the better after he reaches out to them. In the first book, he befriends an eccentric elderly woman while helping an angry old fisherman move on; in the second, he attempts to appease a recently deceased mother by passing along messages to her son - who just so happens to be the classmate that bullies Kip on a regular basis.
The living characters in the series are quite lively. Kip's house is filled with activity, thanks to the many relatives who live there. Campbell and Sons Funeral Home is truly a family business. Kip's father is the sixth in a line of Campbells to run the business, but Kip isn't sure if he wants to be the seventh. Kip's older sister, Elizabeth, annoys him; he prefers to call her Lizbreath. Kip's younger sister, Chick, spreads infectious giggles and smiley face stickers. Kip's mother is the office manager. Uncle Marty is the embalmer, and when he's done, Aunt Sally does makeup and hair. Living up at the top of the house are Great Aunt Aggie, the resident musician, even though she herself has taken ill lately, and Nanbull, Kip's grandmother and close confidante, who writes the obituaries and creates the funeral programs. Kip makes sure the outside of the house is suitable for viewings, raking the leaves (which Chick loves jumping in) and handling other exterior tasks. Lizbreath arranges the flowers, and Kip's mom provides those left behind a beautiful plant. Kip's circle of support extends well beyond his front door: He has three best buds, all male, who share meatball subs and meet after school in their clubhouse, aka Guts, an abandoned groundskeeper's cottage in a cemetery. Meanwhile, Kip develops a crush on the new girl in town, Drew, the daughter of the new harbormaster.
Stories about assisting the dead can go any number of routes, any number of ways, to varying degrees of success. Some are in the horror vein, while others are lighter and comedic. Coleen Murtagh Paratore has made The Funeral Director's Son line more thoughtful, without any horror movie elements, without any disrespect for the dead. The second book was a little more spiritual than expected, but, then again, perhaps that is to be expected when one contemplates death or existence.
Fans of Paratore's series From The Life of Willa Havisham, aka The Wedding Planner's Daughter, will appreciate the little tie-ins between the two series. Perhaps there will be a future crossover...? (Though that would bring something slightly supernatural into Willa's otherwise wholly realistic world, and I don't think I want that.) Though the plots and themes of the two series differ, Paratore begins each chapter of the Kip novels and the Willa novels with a quote, typically a wise proverb or a poetic line or stanza, providing even more food for thought.
If you prefer Ghost Whisperer to The Sixth Sense and you're looking for a series with a male protagonist in middle school, then give The Funeral Director's Son a try.
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