Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Scary Tales: Home Sweet Horror, by James Preller

Following the death of their Mother, Liam Finn and his family move to a "renovation opportunity" out in New York State.  From the very first moment, the family dog Doolin is not a fan, growling and whimpering at the house.  Liam and his sister Kelly aren't thrilled about the new house either, but they're stuck out there now.

Immediately it becomes apparent to Liam that there is something about the house that is not right- a presence or a force that obviously wants them gone.  Not wanting to upset his dad and ruin his new start, Liam keeps his spooky encounters to himself- the noises in the night, the warnings from local tradesmen about the evil of the house, the electrical appliances that seem to work on their own, the messages in the mirror.

When Kelly's friend from back home comes to visit, they decide to see if they can contact the ghost, chanting Bloody Mary in the mirror. They aren't prepared for what comes out of it- and what it is planning to do to them to get rid of the Finns.

A decent, short ghostly horror story, a bit similar in tone to the iconic Goosebumps series.  The author builds up tension through increasingly severe incidents starting with bumps in the night that lead up to the seance, the increasingly erratic behaviour of Kelly and the disappearance of Doolan, until the book culminates in a violent final event.  A solid sense of foreboding is developed, which must be quite difficult to achieve in such a short book.  I really liked the full page illustrations and margin doodles that accompanied the text- some told parts of the story that the text didn't, almost like a graphic novel panel.  The sketchy, shadowy style really suited the tone of the book and I really liked the dangly spider that got lower and lower down the page as you flicked through, it reminded me of the flick-book pages on the Animorphs series.  The illustrations not only helped to set the tone, establish the appearance of the characters and the locations (helpful to the less imaginative reader) but also helped ensure that the bigger portions of text were broken up a little.

In books so short, there is not always an enormous amount of opportunity to develop characters to any great length- and  feel that this was perhaps one of the weaker aspects of this story.  Each of the characters had some personality, but were all pretty basic- Liam was perhaps the most well-rounded, as the reader has access to his thoughts and emotions, we get a better sense of him as a person.  Kelly, the angry teenage and "let's-move-on" Dad both felt a little one dimensional to me, which was a shame.  I would have like to know more about the mysteriously malevolent Bloody Mary- Why was she so attached to that house?  When was she alive?  Why does she haunt the house and not the road where she was killed?  On the whole the characters are functional, but not hugely memorable.  But I realise that these are the restrictions of such short Reluctant Reader fiction...All in all, an engaging chiller with an excellent style and layout- horror is always a popular genre even with weaker readers, so I think this will prove to be quite a hit in the school's library.

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