Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Oh, the joy!
I never win anything in random drawings, scratch-off tickets, or the like. Chance is *not* my friend. Yet I persist. I am glad that my unrealistic optimism hasn't been sapped because I entered to win a copy of PJ Bracegirdle's new novel, The Joy of Spooking: Fiendish Deeds, the first in a proposed trilogy. Presenting Lenore, a lovely book blog, offered three copies, and I actually won one!
The minute I saw the creepy, Tim Burton-reminiscent cover, I desperately wanted to read this book, and reading the first chapter only made it more appealing. Bracegirdle (an unlikely name if I ever heard one) can write very, very well, and he has an imagination that just won't quit. Chapter one opens with an Edgar Allen Poe quote, and it's clear that Bracegirdle is channeling classic horror writers (he references Poe, but Lovecraft also jumps to mind). Joy Wells lives in Spooking, the "hideous hill" surrounded by the newer, suburban, cookie-cutter town of Darlington. The Darlings, as they call themselves, fear Spooking and mock the kids who come down for school at Winsome Elementary. Joy, a devoted horror fan, loves Spooking and has nothing but scorn for the neat, boring lives of the Darling kids who torment her at school. She becomes convinced that her favorite horror writer, E. A. Peugeot, set his stories in and around Spooking, and decides that the Bog Monster in her favorite story must be real. Meanwhile, plans to drain the bog and replace it with a water park are afoot.
The brilliance of this story is in sharp, accurate prose (often infused with delightfully dry wit) and a masterful sense of creepiness (I actually got shivers at the very end). The characters are classic, but complex. Joy's attitude about Spooking is balanced by Bracegirdle's descriptions of the town's decrepitude, and by one Darling child who is shockingly nice to her. Phipps, the villain, is one of the best horror villains in kids' literature. Parallels to Joy's attitude and situation make it apparent that they would have been kindred spirits, but something in Phipps's past changed him, and I can't wait to read about his background in one of the future books. Phipps is a toadying, bitter assistant to the mayor with his own agenda for getting rid of Spooking, and an annoying, Dursley-ish (but smarter) boy cluelessly helps him. Joy tries desperately to save the bog through a variety of means, involving several memorable side characters.
The preservation of the bog brings in an environmental element, but it doesn't dominate the story. The balance between Spooking and Darlington is rich and complicated, and there is more than enough to fuel a trilogy. Joy is a delightful heroine with her stubborn Spooking pride and moments of self-awareness. I highly recommend this book, and I can't wait for Book Two next summer.