Thursday, May 05, 2022

The Shadow Grave

Cohen, Marina. The Shadow Grave
May 3rd 2022 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Arlo is anxious about many things, which is probably a reaction to his mother's fight with cancer. When she decides to take the Thanksgiving weekend away to stay in a bed and breakfast and Arlo and his nine year old sister, Lola, he's not thrilled, but he is prepared. It's a good thing, because when they are on one of the back roads to their destination ("The road less traveled!" the mother enthuses.), a strange creature runs into the road in front of their car, and there is an accident. Arlo comes to hours later, in the cold, to find his dazed sister outside the car and his  mother with a badly injured leg. They know that there was no civilization back the way they came, so after fashioning a crutch for the mother out of a branch, they hobble off to find a town. They find the small, rather abandoned looking Livermore (it is the middle of the night), and manage to get someone to answer the door. There's a dour woman who tells them to go away, but Lola is insistent, and Hannah, who is Arlo's age, comes and tells them to enter. Arlo asks if they can call a doctor, but Hannah says they have no phones or cars in their town, and goes off to get the doctor. He manages to take care of the mother's leg while Hannah shows the children the town, including the creepy mansion where there is a bed and breakfast. They arrange to stay there, but Arlo is not getting a good vibe. The daughter of the owners, Alice, is very odd. Is it his anxiety, or the whisperings he hears that seems to indicate that the family should leave? Arlo tries to get his father to come and get them, but he's busy with his new family and says he will come the next day, since the mother has been taken care of and everyone is safe. After a grim Thanksgiving with the townspeople, Arlo waits to be rescued, but Lola seems to enjoy the town. What's with the abandoned mill, the small population, and the fact that a group of townspeople emit an eerie glow when Arlo sees them making plans outside of town in the middle of the night? Will his father ever take his pleas for help seriously and resuce them? Will he be able to get his family to safety in the meantime?
Strengths: There are a lot of twists and turns in this, and some interesting history that is very timely given the world's current predicament, but I can't really say anything about what goes on in Livermore without spoiling it. I really got into the beginning of the book, and even though there were a lot of details (old maroon Buick), they were all just really compelling. Arlo's anxiety seemed well managed and well founded, and it was good to see him struggle but power through difficult things. The mother's cancer was treated in the same way, and did come into the plot in an important manner. The note at the end about all of the inspiration for the story was quite interesting as well. A great choice for fans of Lawrence's The Stitchers, Currie's Scritch Scratch, and Arden's Small Spaces. I'm glad that we are getting a lot more middle grade horror!
Weaknesses: The cover is not fantastic, although slightly reminiscent of The Smashed Man of Dread End, which has circulated well. The chapters that go back in history and are from Alice's point of view were interesting but took me out of the story a bit, and the end got a bit hard to follow with all the paranormal threads.
What I really think: I enjoyed this author's The Doll's Eye but didn't care as much for Box of Bones or The Inn Between. Looking back at those reviews, I noticed that Cohen frequently mixes sad real life issues with her spooky tales, sort of like Ness' When a Monster Calls. This waters down the horror component for my students who like scary tales. I'll probably buy this one, but it may have to be hand sold due to the cover. 
 Ms. Yingling

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