Written by Cullen Bunn
Published by Earwig Press
We horror fans often have it rough, enduring scorn and derision from multiple sources. That goes double for horror parents, who choose to raise their offspring with a deep appreciation for all things macabre, and so our children have a prayer of surviving a zombie attack. And while there are hundreds (more like thousands) of titles out there for tweenie-readers, there are precious few that are designed with kids around nine years old in mind. Which is why when a book like Crooked Hills: Book One comes across my desk, I just have to sing its praises.
The story is a simple premise, and one that’s been used over and over again: A kid, his brother, and his mom move to a spooky town to live with relatives while Mom gets her feet back under her. And while the kid thinks the town is going to be boring, he soon discovers that it is anything but. In this case, the roll of “kid” is played by Charlie, a boy whose father passed away a few months ago. He and his brother, Alex, meet up with their cousin, Marty, and his friend, Lisa, as they uncover and investigate the eerie folklore of Crooked Hills, starting with the local witch named Maddie Someday. Of course, their investigations lead them to danger, terror, and mortal peril, but that’s what summers are supposed to be filled with, right?
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear from the get-go: This is not a “kiddie” book. Author Cullen Bunn doesn’t talk down to the readers, doesn’t dumb thing down for lower grade levels. To the contrary, he tells a tight story with good detail, excellent plot, and does it without pandering. Sure, the characters are easily relatable to the nine- to fourteen-year-old market, but that’s because that’s who they are. Far from mollycoddling, Bunn puts the readers in the dark and leaves them there without so much as a match for light, and then he pounds on the door to give them a thrill. And it works well enough that even the parents of the children who read this book (and the ones that come after it) will enjoy them.
If there is a drawback, or a weakness, it’s with the ending of this story, upon which I can’t elaborate because that would spoil the whole book. Suffice to say, up until the last ten pages, I was hooked. The last ten, though logical and well written, left a kind of sour aftertaste, but even that didn’t diminish the desire for the next book in the series.
On the whole, I wouldn’t say this is the next “Harry Potter” series because it’s its own entity . However, if you are a parent whose kids are more into monsters and ghouls than wizards and sorcery, the Crooked Hills may be just what you were looking for. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one. Not currently available at Amazon, it’s available through the publisher’s website, earwigpress.com.
4 1/2 out of 5
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