Tuesday, September 20, 2022


I am not personally a horror fan. Nope. Don't like being scared. However, my students are HUGE fans, so I've been actively hunting down titles for years. K.R. Alexander (A.R. Kahler) has come out with so m any titles lately, and they have all been impressive. Dark[room] is the best middle grade horror book I've read. If you haven't stocked up on titles like The Collector, The Undrowned, Escape, and Vacancy, you need to get your hands on Darkroom IMMEDIATELY

Alexander, K.R. Darkroom
September 20th 2022 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea and her friend Rochelle have a plan; they are going to make a career of streaming themselves playing vidoe games, especially horror ones. Bea has even saved up for filming equipment and has a good setup for creating content, but the two are not getting the followers and income that they would like. Bea's parents say that gaming is NOT a career, and her job is to pay attention and do well in high school. But high school isn't pleasant, and Bea is tired of people ignoring or being mean to her. Rochelle seems to be popular, but Bea just wants to find some way of being famous so that people aren't mean to her. The two have played a lot of Zombie games, but need something new. When Bea finds an ominous game called Dark[room] that has lots of dire warnings on chat boards, she decides that it's probably just a gimmick, but one that she can use to her advantage. She applies for permission to play, and of course herr mother takes away her phone and all of her electronics ("Ugh, you kids have more devices than a picnic has ants..." is my favorite line from the E ARC!)) so she can't play. She sneaks into the library where the devices are being held and starts to play. The game has seven ghosts, the players have seven days to take their pictures and "capture" them... and the app never shuts off. It plays all the time. After the first stream goes live, Rochelle is irritated that she wasn't part of it, but the girls get new subscribers and a donation. Bea goes back and has to confront as array of ghosts, including the Tooth Fairy, who attacks her father and pulls out his tooth, sending him to the emergency room. Time after time, Bea thinks about quitting, but Rochelle wants the viewership and money, and Bea wants to make classmates like Claire stop bugging her. When Claire goes missing, and another girl is almost drowned in the pool, Bea knows she's going to have to play the game to the end. Jacob, Rochelle's brother (on whom Bea has a crush), takes Bea more seriously, and when Rochelle gets sucked into the game, Bea can use his help. With the clock ticking, will she be able to save her friends and finish the game? And is the game ever really finished?
Strengths: Okay. So what makes this the best middle grade horror book ever? Sure, the ghosts are all terrifying, and the story is delivered in a breathless, almost frenetic way, but the thing that makes this truly horrifying is Rochelle's confession at the end of the book after she almost dies: "But for the record, I'm willing to take the risk of being haunted by a ghost if that means fame and money." (from the E ARC) That's terrifying. I loved that Bea doesn't really want to play the game, but is so desperate for people to like her that she is willing to do something dangerous, and Alexander does a great job of bringing that desperation to the page and making everything believable. Bea even addresses the typical horror tropes, and goes against her own advice to continue to play the game. Alexander's writing gets better with each book, and the way he intertwines real life fears with imaginary ghostly ones is brilliant. 
Weaknesses: I wanted to know a little more about Bea and Jacob's relationship, and was amused at Rochelle's complete lack of fear, and would have liked to see both issues addressed more, but there's not exactly time for that when Bea is trying to stay alive. 
What I really think: As an old person, I really don't care for electronics, but my students feel bereft if they are away from theirs. I'm also not willing to do very much to be "famous"; I'm occasionally irritated that newcomers get so many followers on Twitter when I clearly know so much more, but I'm just not willing to do the work I would need to do because... I don't care that much. Murderous ghosts and a timely dive into the tween zeitgeist... that's a powerful combination. I could buy ten copies and they would all be constantly checked out!
Ms. Yingling

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