Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Boo Hag Flex (Tales from Cabin 23)

Ireland, Justina. The Boo Hag Flex (Tales from Cabin 23)
May 14, 2024 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

There are strange things happening at Camp Apple Hill Farm, as unhappy camper Elaina learns. She's so homesick that she doesn't join her easygoing bunkmate Tiffany at evening activities, but stays behind in the cabin with her counselor, Taylor. When there's a knock at the door, Eliana sees Taylor disappear into the fog. She follows, and soon finds herself at Cabin 23, where she meets an older Black woman who is a witch and tells her that she can either battle the fog, which is hungry, or listen to a story. Eliana chooses the story.

Tasha's mother has passed away from COVID, and she finds herself being moved from Savannah to rural Georgia. She hasn't met her father, John, before, but he assures her that she'll be fine with him and his mother, Ms. Washington, in their trailer home in the Shady Pines park. Tasha, who is a big reader, is glad to see that there is an extensive library in the trailer, and starts reading her grandmother's books on myths and legends. When a neighbor dies, Tasha meet a white girl her own age, Ellie, who offers her popsicles and a tantalizing local legend; Ellie believes there is a boo hag on the loose, and it's eating not only neighborhood small animals, but the neighbors themselves! Tasha believes this, because she saw an upsetting glimpse of the neighbor's damaged arm as he was hustled into the ambulance, and has also seen the maggot ridden corpse of his cat. Tasha not only has to deal with "murder ghosts" in her new home, but her father's frequent absences. His new girlfriend, Kim, seems very nice; she's a seamstress who also loves to read, and the two spend quality time together, bonding over the fact that they both lost their mothers when young. When another neighbor, Ms. Greta, has some injuries, and her small dog is missing, the girls decide is is time to act. After Ms. Greta passed away, the boo hag comes perilously close to home, and Ellie and Tasha must think quickly to preserve Tasha's new living arrangements. Will they be able to turn the forces of evil away from the Shady Pines Trailer Park?

This ends with Elaina going back to her cabin, but not much else is said about the camp.

Strengths: Aside from the rather frightening boo hag, who drains people's life force before killing them, this has the additional scary element of a parent passing away. To make that even more traumatic, Tasha has to go live with a father she doesn't know. He seems nice at first, but is so absent and uncaring that Tasha even warns Kim not to marry him, even though she would love to have her warm and caring presence in her life. The grandmother is very steady in her support and understanding of Tasha's state, and it's good to see that Tasha is able to make a friend; boo hags are not a force you want to have to fight alone. For my readers, the low level blood and gore of the injuries and dead pets, as well as the description of putrid odors, will be a big sell. Scary camp stories usually circulate well, so it will be interesting to see how the camp will be brought into further tales.
The packaging of this is a bit odd; the cover makes this look like it is marketed to upper elementary school students, but I'm not sure how the writhing maggots will go over with 3rd-5th graders. I'm curious to see what further volumes do with the camp setting. Alkaf's Tales from Cabin 23: Night of the Living Head comes out in August 2023, and the cover does seem more middle grade.
What I really think: This was a fairly scary story that took some twists and turns that I saw coming, but that might surprise young readers. Hand this to readers who enjoyed culturally connected scary stories like Fournet's Brick Dust and Bones, Smith's Hoodoo, Royce's Root Magic, or this author's Ophie's Ghosts. I'll buy a copy, and see how well it does with fans of P.J. Night's Creepover books, which have some similarities in cover design and formatting.

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