Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Follow Me and Haunt Me

It seems like I spend half my time scouring the shelves for scary books to put on display, and any scary books that are returned never make it back to the shelves. The author who has been the most helpful during the upswing in interest in these titles has been K.R. Alexander. Starting with The Collector (2018), he's been turning out fantastic titles like Darkroom, The Vacancy and Escape. Are they a little cheesy? Like applewood smoked Gouda, baby! Are they exactly what my students want? Absolutely. I just realized that I somehow ordered just one copy of Darkroom, and just added three more to my list to purchase. If you need more horror books, invest in a bunch of these titles. They are creepy enough for middle school but not so creepy that elementary students will have to sleep with the lights on for a week. 

Alexander, K.R. Follow Me
December 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Tamal and his parents move from the city to a small town, and buy a mansion because real estate prices are so much cheaper. It's a bit worn down, but an exciting place to live. Even though the community is close knit and not used to outsiders, Tamal is immediately befriended by Max and Lela. They come to his house to hang out and have dinner, and Tamal's father asks them if there are any ghost stories attached to the house. Reluctantly, Lela tells the harrowing story of the people who built the house and a local factory. The house was apparently built on top of a graveyard, and three children and the mother died soon after moving in. There are also local legends that anyone who comes in to the house is haunted, and many teens who are thought to have run away may have died after visiting it. Tamal's dad finds this amusing, since he is interested in ghost hunting, but Tamal is scared-- he's seen the ghost. It's a little girl clutching a teddy bear, and he's afraid that if she looks him in the face, he will disappear as well. When he tells Max about this, Max isn't as thrilled about hanging out, but the two make amends. When the ghost becomes more and more threatening, will Tamal be able to settle the angry spirits with the help of his new friends?
Strengths: If kids move to a new house, there is a 60% chance in middle grade literature that it will be haunted, but a house built on top of a graveyard? THAT ups the creepy factor! I loved that Tamal was able to make friends so easily, and the fact that maybe they are only interested in him because of the house is even addressed, and he's reassured that Max and Lela think he's fun to be around and THAT'S why they are his friends. I loved that. I don't want to spoil the interesting ghost motivation, but it's top notch. Killer ghosts luring in victims for their own evil purposes? Exactly right. 
Weaknesses: I might have treated myself to five mintues of Zillow after reading this, so there is now a house in Cincinnati that my daughter can never buy because it's completely connected to this book! 
What I really think: I'm torn about the glowing eyes on the cover-- super creepy or too much like Five Nights at Freddie's? This ended up being a very solid addition to the Alexander Collection, not quite up there with Darkroom, but better than Fear Zone and any of the books with creepy dolls. 

Alexander, K.R. Haunt Me
December 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Maria has never quite gotten over her twin sister Isabella's death. Her mother is trying, but her father is distancing himself from the family. Luckily, Maria's friends are very understanding and supportive. When they are having a sleepover one night, Tara and Lauren bring a Ouija board type device and the three attempt to connect with Isabella's spirit. They summon something, and in her guilt, Maria invites the spirit in after it asks her to. Of course, this is a bad idea (and Tara later tells her this), and creepy things start to happen. At first, Maria thinks she is just imagining it, but as the stuffed animals' eyes start to glow, their heads start to turn, and they start attacking her, she knows that something is wrong. The ghost takes Tara and challenges Maria to get her back. It's a struggle, and the spirit is very powerful. Will Maria be able to overcome her guilt in order to make peace and subdue the evil spirit?
Strengths: There are enough twists and turns that I don't want to give away too much of the action, and we don't know for most of the book how Isabella died. The animated stuffed animals really up the creep factor for me, and the scenes battling the spirit were horrifying. Of course, I already have a fear of inviting vampires into my home, so this really preyed on those! The processing of Maria's grief is worked in briefly and rather effectively, which was a nice surprise. Tara is a fantastic friend. This is similar to Follow Me, creepier than Alexander's creepy doll books, and not quite as scary as Darkroom, which has replaced The Devil's Footsteps as my favorite scary novel. 
Weaknesses: I will never have fond feeling for dysfunctional grieving parents in middle grade books. 
What I really think: Let's start a display of creepy floating ghosts on the cover! Duga's The Replacement, Krovatin's Darkness, and Sutherland's Ghosts Never Die are great books to start with!

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