Everyone in Timbers knows Still Cove is off-limits, with its creepy Beast sightings and equally terrifying legends. But when a bullying incident sends twelve-year-old Nico Holland over a cliff and into Still Cove's icy waters, friends Tyler and Emma--and even Opal Walsh, who usually runs with the popular kids--rush to his rescue . . . and discover a mysterious island hiding in the murky, swirling mists below.
Though the island appears uninhabited, the kids can't shake a feeling that something about it is definitely not right. Their suspicions grow when they stumble upon an abandoned houseboat filled with all sorts of curiosities: odd-looking weapons, unnerving portraits, maps to unknown places, and a glass jar containing something completely unidentifiable. And in its lowest depths churns a dark, deep secret.
As the group delves deeper into this mysterious new clubhouse, their lives begin to intertwine in weird and dangerous ways. For something ancient has awakened . . . and it can detect not only their wishes and dreams, but also their darkest, most terrible imaginings. Do they have what it takes to face the shadowy secrets lurking within their own hearts?
Told from alternating points of view, this pulse-racing tale from bestselling duo Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs is the start of a high-stakes, thrilling series about friendship and believing in yourself--and each other.
Damp and Creepy
When bully Logan and his cronies send Nico's expensive, handmade drone into the bottomless waters of Still Cove, Nico tries to retrieve it despite the warnings of his friends Emma and Tyler. Of course, the rescue doesn't go well, but the three discover a weird houseboat and island in the middle of the cove (which sounds sort of like a flooded quarry to me). This, of course, has to be investigated, and along with Opal (Logan's girlfriend, who thinks he is overly mean to Nico) they spend some time cataloging the creepy items and checking out the pond in the middle of the island that is especially alarming. When Emma dips her toes into the "Darkdeep", it sucks her under the waters. Luckily, she emerges, but so does the embodiment of her worst fears. As the group continues to return, more and more creatures are brought to life. Logan's father's logging business has been negatively impacted by Nico's father's work protecting an endangered owl in the area, and since jobs have been lost, the townspeople aren't overly keen on Nico. Logan's father works behind the scenes to get Nico's father transferred, which is certainly upsetting. At the same time, the town is preparing for the Radish Festival, and the children get drawn into this as well. They are getting closer to figuring out some of the mysteries of the Darkdeep, but will the monsters break away from Still Cove?
Condie's Matched is very popular in my library, so her fans will check it out, and readers who enjoyed Neal Shusterman's dark tales or McHale's Morpheus Road Trilogy will enjoy it as well. Paranormal forces preying on people's worst fears has been done a few times, most notably Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) and Shusterman's Full Tilt (2003), so readers who have finished The Darkdeep might want to delve into those classics!
Fun and scary middle grade
Reasons I Enjoyed this Book:
1.) The scary factor- Middle grade has seen some fantastic horror additions to the catalog recently from Tracey Baptiste's The Jumbies to Katherine Arden's Small Spaces. The Darkdeep adds to this growing list of fun-but-frightening novels. The premise of a mysterious cove and entity was a perfect amount of thrilling without being "keep the light on" horrifying. Young readers will likely enjoy the idea of figments in the story much like one of the central characters, Emma, does, and soon become skeptical of them as they grow more realistic.
2.) The character growth- At the heart of this series opener is friendship: what brings and holds friends together, how to be friends when your families aren't, and if moving beyond past conflicts is possible. Nico and Opal guide the story, but the friendships between them, Emma, Tyler, and, at some points, Logan, are the story's heart. While it would have been easy to assign 'good' and 'bad' labels to each character, Condie and Reichs craft their characters to be fully dimensional, at times making thoughtful, positive choices, and being more rash and selfish at others. Readers will find themselves quickly growing fond of Emma's love for film, Tyler's steadfast loyalty to his found family, Nico's vulnerability about his family, and Opal's desire to stand up for herself.
What Left Me Wanting More:
1.) The writing- I personally enjoy first person point of view, especially when the chapters alternate perspective, like this one does. Third person for Nico and Opal kept them a little distant, and their differing chapters often blurred together.
2.) The climax- The build up of tension in The Darkdeep was fantastic, but unfortunatley made the climax pale a bit in comparison. While this is the beginning of a series, readers may nonetheless come away disappointed with receiving significantly more questions than answers. Hopefully, later series entries will give the big showdown between the characters and the Darkdeep that is lacking in book one.
Overall, The Darkdeep is a solid choice for young readers looking for spine-tingling read with complex layers of friendship.
I received this ARC via Utopia State of Mind's wonderful ARC Program (https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/arc-adoption/). Thank you!