Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 51
Discover your inner strength
Overall rating
 
4.7
Plot
 
5.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
What worked:
The author adeptly crafts a scary story through descriptive, sensory words and eerie situations.
Evelyn, the main character, struggles with different forms of anxiety that may connect with young readers. Her parents disappeared four years ago so she’s fearful of ever being separated from her guardian, Aunt Des. Aunt D is Blight Harbor’s expert concerning everything paranormal so she’s constantly investigating reports of ghosts and other creepy things. The abandoned slaughterhouse is avoided by all living things so Evelyn isn’t about to let her aunt investigate the place by herself. This concern is ironic since Evelyn has been seeing a counselor to help her cope with panic attacks. As it turns out, Aunt Des is taken by the Clackity and Evelyn must free a serial killer to save her.
Evelyn must survive visiting seven houses in a shadow world in order to locate and rescue her aunt. Each house forces Evelyn to face her fears in its own unique way while they also act as a countdown to the climax. The first house transports her back to her family home before it burned down and her parents disappeared. Another home forces her to remember fond memories of her father’s pyrite crystal sitting on his desk. Remembering good times is painful when someone is dealing with grief and loss. Evelyn meets ghosts along the way and displays kindness toward them. Her empathy results in their returned kindness and some offer helpful gifts in return.
The author creates a sinister, magical world in Blight Harbor, the seventh most haunted house (per capita) in the country. Aunt Des writes a column in the local newspaper offering advice to people dealing with supernatural issues. Evelyn gets bad feelings when she nears the slaughterhouse and she finds hundreds of sparrows seemingly painted on its interior walls. One two-dimensional sparrow moves to her shoulder and becomes a protective “tattoo” during her adventure. In addition to repelling the Clackity, the tiny bird offers whispers of advice and encouragement along the way, like Evelyn’s own inner voice. Purple skies and a black sun cast a disconcerting light across the setting as she completes the quest to save her aunt. Evelyn collects magical objects along the way that will help her complete impossible deeds.
What didn’t work as well:
Evelyn is supposed to free the ghost of a serial killer in order to rescue her aunt. The killer’s victims were disposed of in the slaughterhouse where fingers and toes were the only evidence of their remains. Freeing a murderer who dismembers his victims is an intense, disturbing concept, perhaps too much for young readers. It connects to a dark aspect of the real world that shouldn’t be highlighted.
The Final Verdict:
This book is a finalist for a 2022 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction. The story is very well-written and focuses on a young girl overcoming her fears and grief. I can recommend the book to readers prepared for its gruesomeness but it won’t appeal to everyone.
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