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!