Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Hush-a-Bye and The Hiddenseek

Mott, Jody Lee. Hush-a-Bye
August 24th 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lucy and her mother and younger sister Antonia have been struggling. They've left her abusive father and settled in a trailer in Oneega Valley, New York, where the mother works long hours at a diner. As the summer draws to a close, the girls find an old doll's head in the creek near their home, and Antonia (who is found of picking up "treasures") insists on keeping it, and seems to develop a weirdly close relationship with the doll, whom she calls Hush-a-Bye. When school starts, Lucy must deal with cruel schoolmates like the brutish Gus and the pretty mean girl Madison make life difficult for Lucy, calling her "trash licker" and saying that she smells. When Antonia starts middle school, Lucy is concerned that she will also be the target of her insults, and when she is forced to have lunch with her sister, this fear turns out to be well founded. Antonia tells the lunch lady, loudly, that the two receive free lunch. School isn't all bad, and her kind art teacher, Mr. Capp, provides her with a safe space and trusts her to help a new student, May. She is concerned about Antonia's insistence in caring for the doll, and when someone runs afoul of her, Antonia asks Hush-a-Bye for help... which is eerily delivered. Lucy is so tired of the kids at school being mean to her that she also asks the doll for help, with even more devastating consequences than the first time. This worries her, especially since she's had dreams about the doll, and connected her to the old Hunter's Moon Lodge on an island not far from their home, and to tragedy that occurred there. Lucy tries to hide the doll from her sister, but since the doll calls to the girls, it's impossible to extricate themselves from her evil influence. Of course, the more they ask the doll for favors, the more they realize that hurting other people gives the doll power. Will they be able to neutralize Hush-a-Bye's powers before it is too late?
Strengths: This was a bit like Benefits of Being an Octopus meets Bad Girls Don't Die, so will have LOTS of appeal. It's very evident that Mr. Mott has experience with actual middle grade students, because the kind of emotional bullying that Lucy experiences, delivered under the breath, is exactly right. It's also interesting how Madison is woven into the story, and how Lucy is able to make some peace with her. The backstory with the father, and the details about the family's struggles with economic insecurity add some interest. A number of my family members have lived in trailer parks, and they are definitely underrepresented in middle grade literature. I very much enjoyed that the story wasn't ABOUT the trailer park and how awful it was, but was a solid, creepy doll story. Antonia and Lucy have a great, if complicated, sisterly arrangement. I'm looking forward to see what Mr. Mott writes next!
Weaknesses: The cover is a perfect level of elementary school creepiness, but I wish it were a little darker for middle school. Also, the origin of Hush-a-Bye and the scenes with Hunter's Moon Lodge reminded me very much of Little's Time of the Fireflies (2014), but younger readers won't notice that.
What I really think: If a book has a creepy doll, it should be a creepy, murderous doll, and Hush-a-Bye is right up there with Cohen's The Doll's Eye, Alexander's The Collector, Hahn's Took, and  Black's Doll Bones, although not as horrible creepy as Bell's Frozen Charlotte. Which is good. Those tiny doll teeth creeped me out a bit TOO much!

Cernosek, Nick. The Hiddenseek
August 24th 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Holly and Hector are playing a game of hide and seek with some neighbor children when Hector turns on Holly and leaves her alone. She is approached by a creepy man named Oliver who claims that she needs to go with him. He follows her home, warning that no one will remember her. Sure enough, her father doesn't even notice her tugging on his arm, and her mother, who has been off kilter and depressed for some time, doesn't either. Holly knows better than to go with strangers, but when she realizes that he has Hector as well, she ends up in the strange and cruel world of the Hiddenseek. There, she meets Petunia, Marco, and Max, who are trying to survive in a cave, hiding from It, a scary creature who can turn children to stone. They, too, were playing games of hide and seek that went badly wrong. Hector is making his own way in this world, but has an ally in Edmond. Edmond just wants to play; Petunia's group says that he left them alone because they weren't as much fun. Edmond promises that he will help Hector find his sister. When the cave floods, Holly and her new companions have to leave, and have a horrific experience falling into a river. They find a very old, abandoned church inhabited by George and Javier, who have been in the Hiddenseek a few months. They stay close to the church, eating apples from a nearby orchard and venturing out rarely. They show Holly a Bible, which dates for the 1700s, and a letter that seems to hold some clues. When Edmond and Hector arrive, they endanger everyone. Both Javier and Max have been touched by It and turned to stone, but Edmond says the key to getting back to the real world lies at the manor house. They realize that the whole area is an older version of their town, Covenant, and that terrible things happened to create the Hiddenseek. Holly and Hector find that this hidden world has already impacted their own lives. Will they be able to figure out the rest of the mystery, defeat the forces of evil, and make it home?
Strengths: The worst part of any horror book or movie? Things chasing you! In this, you not only get sucked into a creepy world full of a LOT of rain and mud, but you've got to contend with the creepy Oliver following you in a threatening manor, It hunting you down to turn you to stone, and the ultimate in creepiness-- Edmond befriending you but then turning out to be evil. Argh! I liked that the Hiddenseek was an older version of their town, and the brief historical notes added to the mystery. My favorite scene was when the group was in the millinery shop, wrapping themselves in fabric and getting some rest-- it was such a relief after they had to wander around wet and scared for so long! I liked the mystery with Edmond, and the backstory with Max and Marco was so intriguing that I don't want to say very much and spoil it. This resolves in a satisfying way. 
Weaknesses: While it's great to see more middle grade horror, some of the covers aren't quite as creepy as they could be. Ghostly killers are always a better bet than the scared children. Also, like Ansari's The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly, we have a mother who is grief stricken over children she can't quite remember, and that's just never a great inclusion for me personally. 
What I really think: Start planning that Halloween display now, with Brown's The Forgotten Girl, Hermon's Hide and Seeker, and Hahn's The Girl in the Locked Room. Of course, in my library, this type of book is in such high demand that it only takes two classes to completely decimate such a display!

The Ann Taylor blouse makes me feel very fancy, especially with a new pin from a friend's collection. Chico's skirt, for which I did NOT pay $119. I'd never heard of the brand, and it must fly beneath the thrift store radar, too, because I paid $1 for it! Super comfy, squishy outfit that travels well in my back pack. 

Cheap, scrunchable, and professional. I expect a lot from my clothes!

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