________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover The Summoning. (Darkest Powers, Book One).

Kelley Armstrong.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2008.
390 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-0-385-66534-6.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4

excerpt:

A crunch cut my thought short. It sounded like someone stepping onto the dirt floor. But ghosts didn’t make any noise when they moved. I listened. It came again, a shifting, crackling sound, like someone dropping a handful of pebble-filled dirt.

I swallowed and kept working on the knot.

What if there’s a real person down here with me? Someone who could hurt me?

A scraping noise behind me. I jumped, wrenching my side. The gag stifled my help, and I searched the darkness, heart pounding so loud I swore I could hear it.

Thump-thump-thump.

That’s not my heartbeat.

The sound came from my left, too soft to be footsteps. Like someone’s hands hitting the dirt. Like someone crawling toward me.

“Stop that!”

I only meant to think the words, but I heard them rip from my raw throat, muffled by the gag. The thumping stopped. A guttural noise, like a growl.

One of the definitions of the word ‘supernatural’ given by Wiktionary is “Something that is not of the usual. Something that is somehow not natural, or has been altered by forces that are not understood fully if at all.” Kelley Armstrong’s young adult novel, The Summoning, includes characters and events which exemplify the extraordinary and the unnatural.

     Chloe Saunders seems at first to be an average 15-year-old who loves movies, goes to an arts school, and simply wants to be popular with her peers. But the first few pages of the book are a flashback to a much younger child and give readers a premonition of what might come later on. And Chloe’s teenage life changes radically when she starts seeing ghosts and begins to question her own sanity. One particularly frightening encounter happens at school, and Chloe has to be subdued by the staff. As a consequence, she is put in a home for ‘disturbed youth,’ and it is here that events become really bizarre. These ‘disturbed’ teens have some quite amazing peculiarities. Imagine living with a werewolf, witch or half-demon. It becomes increasingly evident that these supernaturals have not ended up together by chance but instead might be the victims of some strange research project or another equally sinister plot.

     Armstrong’s book is written in the first person, and Chloe, despite her supernatural side, comes across as a pretty typical, down-to-earth teenage girl. Even in the group home setting, the characters, although weird, also have their ordinary side. Tori thinks Chloe is moving in on her boyfriend Simon, for example, and the teens delight in trying to outwit the resident staff. This environment, however, is dotted with strange and unusual occurrences which give the book its suspense and which propel the plot forward in a tense and chilling manner. Yes, these things often take place in the basement or the attic, and yet Armstrong seems to avoid the stereotypical and banal partly through her use of vivid description.

     The action is interesting throughout but becomes increasingly exciting near the end of the book when the teens are in obvious danger and have to save themselves. Who, or what, is after them? Is the danger real or supernatural? It is these questions which add the suspense to the last quarter of the novel. Armstrong literally ends the novel with a question, and readers are well aware that this is the first volume of what will be a trilogy. As suspenseful as this ending is, it is rather unsatisfying since there are far too many unanswered questions. Readers will have to remain frustrated until the next volume appears.

     Armstrong raises some interesting social questions, although these are by no means the focus of the book. For instance, the teens all come from dysfunctional families to some degree. Most lack role models to guide and teach them, whether in the normal world or the supernatural one. Chloe is quickly and easily diagnosed as schizophrenic and is immediately given medication. The others in the home have been treated similarly. Perhaps this is an oblique comment on society’s methods of handling those deemed mentally unstable. It brings to mind the perennial question in Psych 101: “What is normal, anyway?”

     Is The Summoning a mystery book, a horror novel or a fantasy? It contains elements of all three genres with some adventure and romance thrown in for good measure. For this reason, it will have wide appeal for young adults of varying literary tastes and perhaps will interest older readers as well.

Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, has turned her love of travel into a second career as a travel consultant.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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