Super Creepy Reading Extravaganza A la Mode:
Back for Seconds
(With a Side Order of “Coming-of-Age”)
Here we go again. It’s close to Halloween and Penny is after us to recommend scary books. You know me by now. I don’t do scary. I like to sleep with my lights out. I like not worrying about what might be under my bed. I like to dream about pleasant things like flying through ice cream clouds or playing street hockey with kittens.
So why did I agree to do this? It was either this or be in another bowling league with Morzant. That would have made my head explode.
When it comes down to it, I prefer scary to gory.
I like a good coming-of-age story best of all, so I chose three books that will satisfy Penny and the rest of you sleep-with-the-lights-on types and that draw me in because they have characters trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into this crazy world—well, actually, how they fit into their fictional, supernatural, creepy worlds.
by Holly Black, with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler
Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2013
What’s creepier than dolls? Good point. I’ll give you clowns. But after clowns, dolls are hands down (little-plastic-clawed-hands down) the creepiest. The only time I can stand to be in the same room as a doll is when it’s in the loving embrace of a child. That way I know it isn’t sneaking up on me. DOLL BONES takes a regular run-of-the-mill-creepy doll and amps up the creep factor by the power of kazillion by filling it with the bones of a girl who died under mysterious circumstances. How’s that for quality nightmare fodder?
The main characters are three middle schoolers who make up elaborate stories to act out with action figures. (For the record, action figures are not creepy. Don’t ask me why. They just aren’t.) The other twelve-year olds they know aren’t into those kinds of pretending games anymore, but Zach, Alice, and Poppy are happy creating their own worlds and imagined adventures. When his dad throws out his action figures, though, Zach figures his pretending days are over. Without explaining why, Zach tells the girls he can’t play with them anymore.
They’re understandably upset. If Zach quits, their adventures are shut down. Kaput. Finished—in an unfinished kind of way. It’d be like if somebody ripped a half-read book out of your hands and pitched it into shark-infested waters. Great. Now you’ll never know how it ends.
This is where the doll comes in. Poppy tells her friends that her mom’s doll—her mom’s incredibly creepy doll—has appeared to her in a dream. The ghost of the girl whose bones are inside the doll wants to be buried in a graveyard that happens to be in another town. This is a problem for three kids who, without a chaperone, stick out like my big toe. Not to worry. Problems for them make for good reading for you. Creepy doll-related shenanigans keep you guessing if there’s really a ghost or if Poppy just made it up to get her friends to play with her again.
Taking the doll to the graveyard is only one part of the kids’ quest. The other part is their battle against forces pressuring them to give up storytelling.
To sum up:
• Dolls are terrifying. Take one on a road trip at your own risk.
• You’re never too old for a good story.
by Vera Brosgol
[YOUNG ADULT—GRAPHIC NOVEL]
First-Second-Roaring Brook, 2011
What’s worse than falling into an abandoned well? Okay, okay. I’ll give you that one. Falling into a well filled with clowns would be much worse than falling into a plain old empty well. Next worse would be falling into a well with a ghost in it. At least the ghost in this graphic novel doesn’t come packaged inside a doll. Still, being trapped in a well with a ghost of any kind isn’t ideal.
Falling in a well would ruin anybody’s day, but Anya was sulky and bitter before her unfortunate tumble. She’s a regular teenager who cares a lot about fitting in. Her main hang-up is embarrassment about being from another country. She worked hard to get rid of her Russian accent, but it’s harder to shake her association with the scrawny, bullied Russian kid her mom keeps pushing her to hang out with.
Anya’s not stuck in that well too long. When she’s rescued, the ghost comes with her. At first Anya likes having a ghost for a friend. The ghost, Emily, helps Anya get the attention of a boy she likes. She feeds Anya answers during tests and gives her fashion advice. It’s not too shabby an arrangement, at first. Then Anya realizes there are drawbacks to letting a ghost influence her.
It’s hard to say more about ANYA’S GHOST without giving too much away. Ruining endings is Penny’s racket, not mine. Let’s just say Anya figures out Emily is no Casper, ends up taking responsibility for her own happiness, and learns to appreciate her family. Don’t worry horror fans. There’s plenty of eeriness in there, too. No clowns, though, thank goodness.
by Sean Beaudoin
What’s gorier than a chicken processing plant? No, not a clown processing plant. Very funny. The real answer is zombies.
You’re sharp. You probably remember earlier in this post when I said I prefer scary over gory. (I also prefer eggs over easy.) Funny trumps both scary and gory with me, so I had to include THE INFECTS on my list, especially since it’s got a coming-of-age angle that will knock the stripes off your socks.
Normally a book opening with a gruesome accident involving a deboning knife would send me back to the library scrambling for a book (preferably with a 636.807 Dewey number) to cleanse the bloody images from my brain. But then I got to the part where the main character, Nick, starts to lose it. Pretty much every thought he has is interrupted by a hallucinated sarcastic voice that sounds like The Rock. Heck, for that alone, I’d be willing to read an entire twelve-book series about haunted clown dolls with a grudge against cryptids.
But there’s more.
Nick leaves behind his chicken chopping job when he’s sentenced to boot camp. It’s during a wilderness excursion with his comrades-in-detention that really bad things start to happen. Of course, that’s to be expected. In fiction, when a group of teens goes to a remote wooded location together, you just know the javelin-armed killer/zombie horde/ancient-and-evil sea creature/insert supernatural threat here will show up to thin the herd. It’s also expected for characters in horror stories to repeat the same mistakes that result in their being speared/devoured/cursed-and-drowned/insert horrific means of death here. THE INFECTS pokes fun at those clichés with Nick’s hilarious zombie-specific survival rules that help him stay alive and human. You zombie fans will love the “Zombrules” and the book’s references to classic zombie movies.
Like the other two books on my list, this book has a main character who is confused about who he is and who he wants to be. In this case, Nick has to decide if fighting off zombies is worth the trouble. Being human might be overrated.
On a related note, would you rather be a zombie or a clown? Mull it over.
For some more Halloween reading ideas, my S.C.R.E.A.M. list from 2011 is here. If Penny flakes out like she did last time, there won’t be a S.C.R.E.A.M. III for me, even if that means I’ll have to spend every October for the rest of my life watching Morzant throw gutterballs.
Cryptid Public Service Announcement (CPSA)
If you insist on scaring the stuffing out of yourself by reading books about creepy dolls, ghosts, and zombies, please make sure to put an energy-efficient bulb in your bedside lamp.