Book Review: The Ring of McAllister: An SAT Score-Raising Mystery by Robert Marantz

Advertised as “featuring 1,046 must-know vocabulary words,” this supernatural mystery is published by Kaplan and marketed to students wanting to build vocabulary for the SAT. That said, the primary goal of this story is learning words rather than the plot itself. The story follows a high-school junior, Will Lassiter, who lives next door to a creepy old mansion that was once the home of McAllister, the town’s supposedly philanthropic founder. But there are parts of the town’s history that don’t add up, and Will has always been bothered by the creepy mansion after a disturbing childhood incident there.

The story started off slowly, but it built speed at a steady pace. The pages are short because there are footers on each page defining all of the SAT vocabulary used. Most pages contain at least five SAT words. At some points, the words seemed well-integrated into the story. At other times, they were a bit of a stretch. From a narrative perspective, the use of so many SAT words hurt the voice at the beginning of the story, but once the story hooked me (around page 100, probably), the voice and the heavy use of SAT words stopped sticking out.

It was an intriguing mystery, and I was glad that the ghosts in the story are actually real ghosts—rather than the typical Scooby Doo mystery in which someone is dressed up as a ghost. Ghost stories by their nature are compelling to me. I read the book in fifteen-minute increments, during our sustained silent reading period at school, and since the story was easy to access, it fit those reading blocks well.

I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to build vocabulary without being tied down to memorizing tedious lists. I knew most of the words in the book, but there were a few I had never encountered before.

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