Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Dogs of Eh

I'm always at a bit of a loss when teens or older kids ask me for "scary books."  Looking at the trends in YA publishing (dystopia, romance-faux-dystopia, realism with a healthy dose of chronic/fatal illness), it's probably due for another resurgence.  I remember books like I Know What You Did Last Summer being really popular when I was in middle school, but in my excessive nerdiness, I was too busy hunting down Wilkie Collins novels instead of reading pop teen lit.  I wish I had.

I've tried a few "scary" YA books recently, but nothing's really grabbed me.  The Merciless had good intentions, but a less than stellar execution (I did get Danielle Vega's newest book at C2E2 and it sounds really gooooood though!).  Wink by Eric Trant is fabulous but definitely more adult.

Allan Stratton won a Printz Honor for Chanda's Secrets, which I admit to not having read.  However, that lead me to expect a certain level of sophistication in the writing here.  I didn't find it.

Cameron's mother is always checking the cars parked on their street.  Are they being followed?  Has her ex-husband found them yet again?  The novel opens with her sudden conviction that yes, he has found them, and she hauls her teenage son Cameron out of the house and to a small New England town to escape this terrifying, abusive man who will stop at nothing to find them.


Let's see: how many horror story tropes can we cram in?  The only place available to live is an old farmhouse (check) managed by a taciturn and brusque older farmer who probably has secrets (check).  Rumors in the small town (check) swirl about a murder committed at the old farmhouse, which has an attic that's nailed shut (check) and a creepy cellar (double check).

Discount Double Check! If you're not a Packers fan, I'm sorry.
His first day on the bus, Cameron is taunted by the school bully Cody (yawn) and a kid named Benjie, who is "chunky" and "[smells] of stale sweat and breakfast cereal" sits next to him.  Obviously, Benjie is "gross" because he is fat.  Whoa, whoa whoa.  Stop.  No.  Not cool.  Stop using "fat," which is a descriptive adjective just like "tall" or "short" as shorthand for "gross ugly loser."  It's offensive and simply not true.

Cody makes Cam's life at school miserable, but also piques his interest in the history of the farmhouse.  After finding some creepy drawings in root cellar, Cameron begins to see a ghost.  Or does he?

The whole ghost thing isn't really that scary.  What's definitely played up is Cam's inability to distinguish between reality and imagination.  Who's really telling the truth?  Is his dad really as bad as his mom says?  Or is she just overreacting?  Is there really a ghost talking to him?  Or is he just imagining things?  

Far from acting like a teen in high school, Cameron speaks and makes the choices of a nine-year-old.  He's extremely juvenile and whiny.  It's just not a believable characterization.  

While an exploration of trauma and its effects on imagination and paranoia would have been intriguing. the story derails into what-the-heck land in its home stretch.  

I honestly don't know who this story would appeal to, out of the teens at my library.  The cover isn't particularly good (the Aussie cover is, however, fantastic!), but it did zip by pretty quickly.  I just can't recommend it in good faith.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

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