CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 6. . . .October 11, 2013
Illustrated by Sam Bosma.
New York, NY: Scholastic Press (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2013.
298 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Stephanie Dror.
It sat squatting on three stubby legs and, most curiously of all, it was holding out its left hand.
"I think it's some kind of gargoyle," he said.
"There's writing on it," Melissa pointed out.
Sure enough there was a small stone plaque gripped in the claws of its feet. Morton wiped the damp earth away to reveal a short stanza.
Break a finger, make a wish,
But selfish thoughts you must banish
Choices made without due care
Will plague forever – friend, beware!
"Break a finger?" James said. "What does that mean?"
That's when Morton realized that the outstretched left hand was holding up three fingers, only they were so encrusted in mud that you could hardly see them. He began pulling away the clumps of mud to reveal the details of the hand. As he did so, he heard a slight cracking sound and realized that he'd broken off one of the delicate stone fingers...
One of the best 'be careful what you wish for' stories I have ever read, Sam Fisher’s Scare Scape is a wonderful hybrid of the grotesque, horror, humour and mystery genres all wrapped into one. It is the story of three siblings adjusting to life in a new town with a single parent.
Their new home is the town of Dimvale, in a wonderful crumbling mansion rife with secrets and dust. Morton Clay, the hero of the story, is obsessed with Scare Scape, a comic series reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt Keeper, whose stories feature inventive and terrifying monsters, doomed characters, and wisps of wisdom and knowledge. Since his older brother James has gotten too old for Scare Scape, the boys have become distant, and their older sister, Melissa, wants nothing to do with them. But when they discover the gargoyle statue in their new yard and make their wishes, their world is turned upside down. As we know, if you are granted the things that you most desire for free, there are always unforeseen, unpleasant and horrifying consequences.
Morton and his siblings are believable, relatable characters, and though their father is loving and gentle, his night job doesn't allow him to be with his children much. They begin the book as a fractured family, each of them feels neglected, and being dragged to a new town only exacerbates these feelings. Throughout the book, each of the kids encounters troubles with friends and brushes with the adult world, but they face their worst nightmares and valiantly step up to the challenge. In particular, Melissa's change, with sword-brandishing slayer moments and moments when she embraced the matriarch role, was quite dramatic and positive.
The cover and inside illustrations, by Sam Bosma, help to bring the world of the Scare Scape comics to life. Each of the creatures depicted could really come from a comic or a card game, and this complements the arc of the story well and helps readers imagine what kinds of creatures our protagonists are up against. The art is a great balance of frightening and fascinating – just as it should be.
The pacing of the book is a perfect mix of life drama, gruesome slime, brilliant mystery (with believable red herrings and twists), and oh, the splendid monster action. While I was already invested in the character development, the book really came alive when the monsters entered the scene. A frantic energy took over the page as the kids scrambled to beat the beasts and find the courage to do so.
Scare Scape is a fun read. Kids who enjoy the “Goosebumps” series, “American Chillers”, comics and monsters will enjoy it. Though its conclusion leaves room for sequels, it is a stand-alone book full of striking illustrations and frightful adventure.
Enjoy and, be careful what you wish for...
Stephanie Dror is in the MA in Children's literature program at the School of Library and Archival Studies, the University of British Columbia.
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