Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Stitchers and Ikenga

Lawrence, Lorien. The Stitchers (Fright Watch #1)
August 18th 2020 by Abrams Amulet
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Quinn Parker lives on Goodie Lane in a small Connecticut town with her  mother and her older, arthritic dog, Billy. Her father, who was a policeman, passed away recently, and Quinn is struggling with missing him. He shared her concern about the odd behavior of the "Oldies" on her street, and since his passing, she has taken to investigating them with the assistance of neighbor and classmate, Mike. The two are on the track team and meet up in the mornings to run, talk, and judiciously spy on their creepy neighbors. The Oldies are secretive, artificially young looking, and judgmental about the children's actions, but are also civic leaders who donate a lot of money to various causes around town. When the local pond starts drawing Quinn to it, and she finds that the young girl who used to live in her house, Mary Hove, died there 55 years ago on the Fourth of July, she and Mike are even more worried. Because they spend so much time together, Quinn's best friend, Zoe, thinks that the two are dating. Mike thinks it would be an easy cover for their investigation if people were to think that, although Quinn doesn't like to lie to her friend. Quinn's mother, a nurse, works long hours, but her grandmother, Grandma Jane, stops by to spend time with Quinn and cook delicious meals for her. When Quinn finds her father's notebook about the Oldies and turns up some interesting research at the public library, she and Mike start snooping in earnest and find out very dark secrets about her creepy neighbors. Luckily, neighbor Red is not one of their group, and he helps out when things get very dire. Will Quinn and Mike be able to figure out what's going on before the Fourth of July brings certain doom to the neighborhood?
Strengths: This had some very sneaky similarities to Stine's venerable Fear Street books; connection to witches in early New England, a street where things are not as they seem, and deep rooted secrets that threaten to harm innocent people. However, this has a definite middle grade spin, and eschews the standard "bodies falling out of closets at the end of every chapter" that defines the cheesy 1990s horror genre. Instead, Quinn and Mike have valid concerns, and investigate them thoroughly. I don't want to ruin the twists and turns, but this does get nicely violently creepy at the end. Let's just say that I'm going to be SUPER careful when running by the wetlands in my neighborhood! Any book that involves running is going to be a hit with me, and I really enjoyed how well Mike and Quinn got along. Grandma Jane has some really nice scenes, and Billy the dog does not die. (My dog Sylvie would just like to say that her vet put her on Natural T-Relief Mobility tablets, and they have helped a bit with her joint stiffness!)
Weaknesses: While the father's death puts some level of pathos in this, and it's handled in a forward going manner, I will always think there is a way to construct a story without killing parents. It's just overdone.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I'm glad to see that this will be a series, and excited to have this, along with a lot of new K.R. Alexander titles and the Haunted series, which includes Sutherland,'s The Nightmare Next Door. Now, if we could add in just a few bodies behind doors, my students would approve.

Okorafor, Nnedi. Ikenga
August 18th 2020 by Penguin Random House
ARC provided by Follett First Look'

Nnamdi lives in Kalaria, Nigeria with his mother, and his father, who is the chief of police and very invested in taking down major crime figures in the area. When his father is killed in his office, Nnamdi is devastated. Not only doe he miss his father, but his absence leads to economic difficulties, and his mother must go sell tapioca at the street market. When one of the criminals, Never Die, accosts his mother, Nnamdi is angry but not sure what he can do to help. When the ghost of his father appears to him, he is given an answer; his father gives him an Ikenga, a small statue he may only touch with his right hand. In times of anger or stress, the statue allows him to morph into the giant, dark as night Man, who can take vengeance on the criminals. First, he saves a woman whose car is being stolen by Three Days Journey, and then he beats a thief who preys on people at the market, Bad Market. Both times, he is angry with himself for being so violent, and he vows not to hurt anyone else. He is particularly concerned when he raises his hand in anger to his friend, Chioma. Things are changing at home as well, and his mother starts to date a doctor, Bonny. When the three are out on a trip, they get caught in a traffic jam, and his mother's purse is stolen by Mama Go-Slow and her gang. The fight against her is particularly difficult, since she also has some magical powers, which the others criminals lacked. Nnamdi is again violent, and again regrets it. Still, the crime in his area is not going away, and he is worried when his friend Ruff Diamond goes missing. When Bonny's car is stolen, Chioma and Nnamdi connect the events to Three Days Journey, and set out to retrieve the car and their friend. The Man is covered in the newspaper, and while the people are glad that criminals are being thwarted, the new chief of police claims that the Man is a danger to everyone. Eventually, Nnamdi hunts down the Chief of Chiefs, the criminal mastermind he suspects is behind his father's death. Is this the case, or is all of the criminal activity tied to someone else? In order to deal with his powers, Nnamdi needs many answers.
Strengths: This is a fascinating look at life in a Nigerian town, and the use of the Ikenga, Nnamdi's father's ghost, and other magical elements make for an intriguing fantasy novel. I enjoyed that Chioma, Nnamdi's best friend, has some small connection to the magic because she touched the statue at some point. In the US, the police are considered to be above reproach in most instances (well, THIS was written before June of 2020, wasn't it?), so it will be enlightening to young readers to see a police force that is open to so much corruption, and a society where there are criminals on the loose. It was also good to see Nnamdi's grief over his father's death leading him to try to take his father's place in keeping his community and his mother safe.
Weaknesses: There were some words and events that could have used a little  more explanation in order to make this more accessible to US readers. I myself would like to more about the names in this book; I know that many of my students of Nigeria descent have names like Blessing, Purity, and Glory, but the names of the criminals intrigued me and I want to know more!
What I really think: This definitely had a different fantasy flavor to it, and offers a lot of insights into what it is like to live in Nigeria. I've had a couple of students from that country who are very interested in the literature of the area, and this will appeal to both them as well as fantasy fans.
Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment