Here’s another one for kids looking for something spooky for Halloween (or, you know, any other time.) This is one I already had checked out from the library for Cybils reading when I went to Kidlitcon and saw that the author was on the Middle Grade Horror panel!
Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith. Clarion Books, 2015.
It’s the 1920s or possibly 30s in small-town Alabama. Hoodoo Hatcher, aged 12, is being raised by his grandma, Mama Frances, as both of his parents are dead – his mother in childbirth and his father hanged for a crime that Hoodoo has pretty much been kept in the dark about. “Hoodoo” is both what his people call magic and Hoodoo’s name, as his grandmother thought that he was full of that. Hoodoo feels that this is an injustice – not only does he have a funny name, but he can’t even do the magic his name would imply – at least not yet. He’s sweeping in the general store for an extra coin when a stranger dressed in black comes into the store looking for “mandragore”. Hoodoo knows neither what mandragore might be nor why he is so frightened of the stranger. But when crows and the fortune teller at the state fair and his dreams tell him to be careful, he starts getting very nervous. Still, he doesn’t want to tell his family. (Poignantly, he and his not-yet-girlfriend Bunny have to go to the fair on the last day, “Colored Folks Day”, so the white folks don’t have to attend a fair previously attended by coloreds.) Hoodoo – helped somewhat by Bunny – sets out on a mission first to find out what the man in black wants and stop him. It’s all bound up with Hoodoo’s personal family history, so that in the end, Hoodoo is both stronger in himself and more connected to his family history.
This sounds pretty grim, and to some extent it is – it doesn’t stop shy of real people being killed, even if the children stay safe, and some of the magic is dark and very, very close to Hoodoo. But it’s also filled with the warmth of Hoodoo’s extended family and friends. Hoodoo himself has a fine sense of humor and optimism in the face of everything that reminded me of Bud in Bud, Not Buddy. He tells the story in first person, with asides to explain his world followed by “if you didn’t know” – “Molasses is like syrup but thicker, if you didn’t know.” If you’re looking for a book to make your skin crawl where the young hero still wins in the end, this is a fine one
Official disclaimer – this book is nominated for the Cybils award, but this is my personal opinion on the book, not the opinion of the Cybils committee.