Archive for Fiction
Published by Scholastic on 8/1/12
Genres: Horror, Middle Grade
Source: Audrey's Astounding Library
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Oh who doesn’t love a good abandoned-mental-institution story?
Only someone who’s dead inside, that’s all.
With what seems like suspicious ease, new kids in town Neil and Bree team up with age-appropriate companions and investigate the legend of the local abandoned asylum: Graylock Hall, where several young patients mysteriously drowned twenty years ago, and where it’s said that their killer, Nurse Janet, still roams the halls looking for new victims.
First of all, I need someone to explain to me this current fascination with drowning girls in YA fiction. It seems like it’s been building in momentum for a couple years now and I cannot for the life of me figure out why all these seemingly harmless YA authors are running around drowning young ladies instead of shooting, stabbing, poisoning or whopping them over the head. Is it an Ophelia thing? If so, why?
Answers on a postcard, please.
Second of all: awesome book. Some serious research has gone into constructing Graylock. The descriptions of the halls, the gym, the locked wards, the basement, the creepy staircases — all of it is incredibly detailed and realistic. The spooky occurrences are genuinely weird, especially after the ghost follows Neil and his sister home (like you do) because it’s one thing to think you hear footsteps or an unexplained bang in an abandoned asylum and completely another to find unexplained puddles of lake water on the floor at the foot of your bed. Your bed. In your locked and comfy safe house, on the second floor.
The characters are…well, they’re kind of unimportant, honestly, because the book is driven so hard by plot and setting. It is worth noting that Neil and Bree’s aunts are LGBT characters done well in the sense that no one ever mentions they’re lesbians, or notes that they’re together. They just are, and did we mention that Neil and Bree are being stalked by a ghost? Who manifests in the bathroom with them? Because that’s way more important than who’s with who right now. It was heartening.
Now, completely at random, the other day I watched the documentary Cropsey, which covers the rash of child murders in the late 70s and early 80s near Willowbrook, an abandoned residential school for the disabled on Staten Island. It’s a fantastic documentary for anyone interested in social issues, actually, because a) the horrifying conditions at Willowbrook were completely hidden until an unknown cub reporter named Geraldo Rivera snuck inside one of the buildings with a camera crew*, and b) a former Willowbrook attendant was eventually charged with two of the murders, and the filmmakers’ contention is that the evidence is a little thin in at least one case. Specifically, that they could understand, based on the emotional impact to the community of all these disappeared children, that they would want a scapegoat. They wanted someone to pay. And that idea is echoed here by a former nurse the children contact, who talks about the myth of Nurse Janet:
“To have an entire community turn against you…To have friends and family wondering: Is it true? Is she capable of such an atrocity?…I believe with my heart and soul that the people of Hedston never wanted to blame [Nurse Janet] but who else did they have to blame? No one else was there.”
Don’t get me wrong, this book doesn’t get very deep into child murders or Freddie Krueger-style community lynchings. This would be a great middle grades book as well as deeply satisfying catnip for John Bellairs fans of all ages.
Also, this book is ground-zero for anyone who likes descriptions with lots of shoe noises in them: nine different passages I found to add to my list of shoe-noises in fiction.
…What? Everyone has one of those, right**?
One minor quibble is that there are three pages right at the end, one tiny chapter, that is in an entirely different POV from the whole rest of the book. AUTHORS: DO NOT DO THIS. Or at least if you do, do it a whole lot better than it was done here. It’s the climax of the book! If you can’t figure out how to hang onto your POV there, phone a friend! Wake the betas! Go for a walk, then put the coffeepot on! Grah.
Yeah I know. That’s going to bother nobody but me. It’s fine. I get that a lot.
Overall, a great little atmospheric lovely, complete with Scooby Doo-style mystery solving and a cheerful lack of romantic entanglements, which feels very appropriate, y’know, for a book about ghosts and child murders. Call me old fashioned if you must.
*Hello and welcome to another installation of Things Not Taught In School, pockets of over-looked history that could use being dug up and talked about. Also, that’s some hard footage to watch, in case anyone’s got child abuse triggers. Forewarned is forearmed.
**Obviously, it’s a long story.
Series: Lewis Barnavelt #11
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers on 10/5/06
Genres: Middle Grade
Source: Audrey's Astounding Library
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The lovable underdog Lewis Barnavelt and his best friend Rose Rita are at it again—investigating the curious (and possibly supernatural?) goings-on in their town of New Zebedee. They get more than they bargained for when a new family moves into the Hawaii House, one of the oddest-looking houses in town, and Lewis and Rose Rita are drawn into a mystery involving forces far beyond the shores of their imagination. Why are there strange drumbeats emanating from the top floor of the Hawaii House? And why is Lewis having dreams about Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire? Incorporating actual Hawaiian legends with a spine-tingling story of suspense, this is another great addition to the Bellairs canon.
Uh, I mean Brad Strickland, because John Bellairs is dead. Sort of.
Once upon a time, my young onions, there lived a bookworm on the top of a hill. For complicated reasons that involved the near-total collapse of the California school system, she was bused to a middle school 35 minutes away, instead of the middle school 10 minutes from her house. By law. Anyway, she had a lot of time for reading, is what, both on that bus and on the mile walk from the bus stop back up to her house on the hill.
No no. Don’t be silly. That really was the closest the bus would come. If the district could’ve legally gotten away with slowing to 25 mph and pushing us out the door 500 yards from the school itself, they would’ve. So yeah, mile walk. Calves with scary edges.
In summer the walk was hot, and in winter it wasn’t cold (see: California) but it got dark really quickly, way before I could make it to my house, and it was in the middle of a forest filled with rattlesnakes and tarantulas and yes, I whined like a buzzsaw about all this shit to my poor mother. Point being: I was perfectly primed to have the bejeesus scared out of me by John Bellairs. Specifically, The Figure in the Shadows. There’s a scene where Lewis Barnavelt is walking home from the library in late autumn, and it gets dark around him, and he starts to think there’s someone following him.
He stops and looks around. No one there.
But still the footsteps continue, muffled slightly by the crispy leaf noises. He can’t see the person, but he knows he’s being followed, then suddenly night has actually fallen and he’s full-out RUNNING from streetlight to streetlight as his pursuer gets closer and closer, and all he can do is hope he can make it to his magic-slinging uncle’s house before this thing strings him up by his Achilles tendons. And the heck of it is, it turns out there really was someone following him.
After I read that book and it was coming on winter, everything getting dark as I trudged up that damn hill with no one for miles, I was so convinced there were people lurking in the bushes lining the roadsides that I scared myself witless and my trudging would turn into running and I swore I could hear footsteps behind me, crunching through the leaves.
So of course I then read every John Bellairs I could get my hands on.
John Bellairs died in 1991, but his franchise lives on, taken on by Brad Strickland. And I, as a then-senior in high school, was horrified. Messing with perfection! Tampering with arcane forces of awesomeness! Git yer grubby hands off those books, interloper!
Of course, as with most things, my hs senior self was totally wrong. Brad Strickland’s books — generated from Bellairs’ two unfinished manuscripts and two plot outlines — were not bad. They did not suck at all.
And then Strickland did the unthinkable: he kept on writing Bellairs’ characters in stories of his own devising.
In The House Where Nobody Lived, Lewis Barnavelt and his best friend Rose-Rita are starting middle school. They befriend a boy whose family recently moved into The Hawaii House, an abandoned mansion with a tragic history. Before long, the family and the town are both beset by strange drumbeats and demonic possession, all of which seems to point back to the aforementioned tragic history, in which the standard Bellairs formula is applied: misguided old coot retires to previously harmless mansion on a quest to thwart dark forces for his own gain.It’s a great formula when you think about it: a cautionary tale about the danger of using sorcery for your own twisted ends and going anywhere near weird and muttering old men. (Awesome! A twofer!)
I really liked this one. Like, a ton.
There’s a moment near the beginning, where Lewis and Rose-Rita are checking out The Hawaii House before school starts and Lewis gets the sense that they’re not alone in the forest. And that moment is every bit as spine-tingly as the one in Figure in the Shadows, if not better.
Also, and this really sealed the deal for me, Strickland honors how Bellairs treated Rose-Rita as less of a sidekick and more of a second protagonist. She has agency and emotions. She affects the plot and contributes to it and — brace yourself, onions — this book passes the Bechdel Test.
Now, I wish I could speak to how fairly House of Nobody deals to Hawaiian legend, specifically Pele and the night marchers, but I can’t, I just don’t have the expertise and am not a native Hawaiian. I just enjoyed the way the whole story was told.
Especially since I didn’t have to walk a mile uphill to get the full benefit of it.
Published by David Fickling Books on 9/12/06
Genres: Middle Grade, Tough Issues
Source: Gifted ♥
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When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
Interest in the book
The title grabbed me. The back of my book does not have the above synopsis. It is a much simpler synopsis that leaves room for imagination. However, it is pretty obvious, to me, what the story was about from the start. If it is not obvious to you, then I suggest you do not continue reading this review, as you may be spoiled.
The book begins when Bruno comes home and finds his maid, Maria, packing up his clothes. He is infuriated and asks his mother what is happening. She explains that the family is moving. Bruno loves his home and friends in Berlin, and he is quite unhappy about this news. He does not want to leave his ” three best friends for life” or his five-story house that has loads to offer in terms of exploration. He arrives to his new home in “Out-With” and his entire world changes.
Bruno is an interesting nine-year-old who is smart for his age but absolutely clueless about the outside world. This is evident from his many comments about his life. I blame his parents, who have kept Bruno and his 12-year-old sister, Gretel, pretty sheltered. For good reason, in their eyes. It was quite amazing to experience life outside of Bruno’s new home. Throughout the story, Bruno matures greatly from a simple friendship with Shmuel, who lives on the other side of the vast fence that Bruno can see from his bedroom window. Neither boy is aware of the reasons they are different and most live on opposite sides of a fence. Neither boy is knowledgeable as to why they are supposed to hate one another and why they cannot play together.
Bruno’s father is a high-ranking SS official who mans the “Out-With” camp. His mother is a flighty woman who is obviously depressed, and his 12 year-old sister, Gretel, is pretty much a troll. I wanted to kick her on many occasions but she is definitely a product of her environment. It is very obvious that these two children are kept quite sheltered, despite their father’s involvement in such atrocities. They are never allowed in Father’s office, which is “Out Of Bounds At All Times and No Exceptions.” They are given orders and tasks but nothing is ever explained to them. Gretel at one point tries to explain something to Bruno about Jews, but even she can’t identify why they are different and “Opposite” and must “hate” them. His father’s too busy, mother sleeps all the time, and Gretel talks to her dolls, so Bruno is left to his own devices to discover life. You can learn a lot from reading, but children learn about life through socialization with others.
The world is not new and unfortunately, a part of our world’s history. A part we all wish to forget. Bruno is our narrator, and we see the world through his eyes. His innocence makes you gasp, and you immediately wish you could revert back to the days when the world was so simple, when you knew of nothing much other than playing with new toys and new friends.
I’ve seen a ton of criticisms about this book on Goodreads, and while everyone is allowed their opinion, I’m a tad shocked at their responses. Children are children – NOT adults. Bruno was nine-years old and in my eyes, that is pretty young. We’re talking living less than a decade of life. I work with children and while they can be very imaginative, resilient, inquisitive and observant, they are still children with little life experience and even less socialization. And the growth that Bruno experiences is very much apparent. He isn’t the most observant person you will ever meet, but neither is half the world, if you ask me.
Yea, the horrors of the Holocaust were far, far more horrifying than portrayed in this book. However, Bruno was not a prisoner in the camp, and this is a middle-grade book. Let’s keep it kinda not nightmare-inducing, k? I don’t doubt that middle-graders can digest such horrors, but there is plenty of room for discussion with those children once this book is closed. Discussions in which they may learn about far worse scenarios in these camps, but they will have adults available to them in which to process their feelings and thoughts, and that is a much better way to learn and grow and mature and experience life, from my perspective…
And personally, those who complained about such things missed the entire message of this book.
This was a powerful story, full of innocence and compassion and what it means to be human. The ending will leave you feeling many intense emotions. I was not expecting what I received when I opened this book, and it is one I will not soon forget.
What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 9/13/10
Source: Paperback Swap
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Jack is five, and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside...
Told in Jack's voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other.
Smashtastic Entertainment Quickie
This is a book that will stick with you. It’s compelling and haunting, and leaves you with many questions and opinions.
Interest in the book
The title grabbed me, and then the synopsis really grabbed me. I was unsure of where the book would take Ma and Jack, but I knew it was going to be a difficult journey.
I started this book in audio while packing up my condo. The voice artist who plays Jack was ridiculously annoying in only a way a 5-year-old voice can annoy you. So in essence, brilliant job, but it took some time to get used to. Honestly, I loved Jack-speak. It did not take me long at all to acclimate to his language, and personally, I found it endearing, amusing and whimsical. Once Ma informed Jack that there actually was an Outside, and not just what he sees in TV, I became very engrossed in the story. I switched to the book and could not put it down. Jack begins to question his entire existence, and seeing Outside through his eyes for the first time is terrifying yet hopeful. Children are incredibly adaptive, resilient beings!
Characters & World-Building
Jack turns 5 at the beginning of the story and you learn that he was born in Room. As you get to know Jack and Ma, you learn that Jack has never been outside Room and knows of nothing outside his 11×11 environment. Everything on TV is pretend. Jack has named all of the objects and refers to them as people. In his world, they are his friends. Jack’s constant questioning of everything was so realistic. He asked Ma many questions but he kept most of them to himself, and it was upsetting to experience his uncertainty and fear, at times. Seeing the world through Jack’s eyes keeps the reader on their toes as you are awed and annoyed by the imagination and lack of experience of a 5-year-old. A very under-socialized but intelligent 5-year-old.
Seeing Jack change and morph once exposed to Outside evokes a ton of emotions. The reader is slapped with the realization that humans need other humans to learn how to be human. Socialization comes from being social, and while Jack had Ma, he had experience with no other humans, situations or environments, except a few short interactions with Old Nick. If a child is raised in a room and knows of nothing else, he will be comfortable and content in that space. Jack was absolutely comfortable and content, so much so that he wanted to return to Room later on. That was his home, what he knew and was comfortable with.
Ma was an incredible young lady. She is so very protective of Jack, who is her only friend and confidant. At times, you want to yell at Ma and encourage her to place Jack in time-out, as he can grate on your nerves with the best of them. Other times, you want to hug Ma and place her in the Patience Hall of Fame. As you learn of how she came to exist in Room, your emotions are overloaded. Once Outside, Ma is overwhelmed, much like Jack, though she is ready to move on with life. She struggles acclimatizing back into life and society, but she never falters as Jack’s protector. I am so awed by this woman, you have no idea.
This book hands your emotions to you on a silver platter. You feel the whole gamut. The characters are presented with some ugly psychological issues, as expected, and you are left wondering if they will ever recover. One thing that never faltered, no matter how irritated or depressed or overwhelmed or fearful Jack or Ma became, was their undying, unconditional love for one another. I did not close this book sad or angry. I closed it with a small smile on my face and happy tears in my eyes.
It’s all real in Outside, everything there is, because I saw an airplane in the blue between the clouds. Ma and me can’t go there because we don’t know the secret code, but it’s real all the same.
Before I didn’t know to be mad that we can’t open Door, my head was too small to have Outside in it.
Do this book sound appealing? If you’ve experienced Jack and Ma’s journey, how did it affect you?
In the Path of Falling Objects:
Part One: Pages 2-62 Discussion
June: In the Path of Falling Objects (Hosted by Lady Reader’s Bookstuff)
- 6/2: Part One: Pages 2-62
- 6/9: Part Two: Pages 63-129
- 6/16: Part Three: Pages 130-195
- 6/23: Part Four: Pages 196-267
- 6/30: Part Five: Pages 268-323
July: Stick (Hosted by Roof Beam Reader)
- 7/7: First (Part 1): Pages 2-59
- 7/14: First (Part 2): Pages 60-103
- 7/21: Next (Part 1): Pages 107-216
- 7/28: Next (Part 2): Pages 216-292
August: Ghost Medicine (Hosted by Not Now…I’m Reading)
- 8/4: Chapter 1 – 8
- 8/11: Chapter 9 – 15
- 8/18: Chapter 16 – 22
- 8/25: Chapter 23 – 29
September: The Marbury Lens (Hosted by Smash Attack Reads)
- 9/8: Part One: The Amethyst Hour, Chapters 1-17
- 9/15: Part Two: The Strange Boys, Chapters 18-30
- 9/22: Part Three: Blackpool, Chapters 21-42
- 9/29: Part Four: Chapters 43-48
- 10/6: Part Five: Seth, Chapters 49-59
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