Here’s some more of my Cybils reading – ranked roughly in order from least to most frightening.
Temple Alley Summer
by Sachiko Kashiwaba. Translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa. Illustrated by Miho Satake
Read from library copy.
Fifth-grade Kazu has been up late watching horror movies on TV – a Japanese summer tradition. Unable to sleep in the middle of the night, he looks out of his window and sees a girl in a white kimono with red baubles in her hair coming out of his house on the other side of the courtyard. He thinks she’s a ghost – until she turns up in his classroom the next day, and everyone else says that Akari has always been there.
That day, looking at an old map in class, he learns that his street used to be called Temple Alley, and that his house was the site of a temple whose name, Kimyō, translates as “return to life.” His mother decides that learning more about this will be a good summer project for him, but interviewing the neighbors seems to be a dead end – they’re determined not to talk to him, and are only interested in knowing if Kazu has actually seen someone return from the dead.
The more he learns, though, the more protective he grows of Akari, a girl his own age who died without ever having a chance to live. That leads him to help her search for the rest of the serialized story she read in a magazine in her previous life – 40 years earlier. This story, about a girl sold to a witch by her desperate father, is also included. His new friendship with Akari also leads to some raised eyebrows from his best friend, Yūsuke, who’s convinced that he’s abandoned his previous crush for Akari.
Overall, I would say that this is a not-too-scary ghost story, with the most intense and distressing parts in the story-within-the story. I didn’t quite buy the logic of the ending, but overall, I enjoyed the story and particularly the look at the intertwining faiths of Japan and the rhythms of summer. Black-and-white illustrations are manga style during the main narrative, and European fairy-tale style silhouettes in the secondary story.
by Ally Malinenko
Katherine Tegen Books, 2021
Read from library copy.
Middle schooler Zee Puckett loves scary things – ghost stories, visiting the cemetery, and big storms. But that changes after a very large storm in her small New England town, when people disappear and she and her best friend Elijah are chased by giant dogs in the cemetery. Zee also hears voices at night, and even sees a ghost on her sofa.
As their principal is one of the first to disappear, but only a day later, there’s a new principal, Mr. Scratch. He’s dressed all in black except for one shiny red glove, and he’s very interested in everyone telling him their deepest, most selfish desire. Zee seems to be the only one who isn’t convinced that he’s genuine, and it soon gets worse.
Everything for both Zee and Elijah is made worse by their family situations. Zee’s widowed father has been away looking for work for six months, leaving her in the care of her 21-year-old sister. Elijah, meanwhile, has a mother who hasn’t gotten out of bed recently, and a father who wants him to lose weight, man up, and take up football. When Zee’s class nemesis Nellie sees Zee talking to a ghost and also gets chased by the dogs, she has to be let in on the mystery-solving, too. There is some character growth as the two girls work through their differences, but mostly this was a story of middle schoolers battling a very creepy evil that no one else believes exists.
Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales
by Soman Chainani. Read by Polly Lee. Print edition illustrated by Julia Iredale.
Harper Audio, 2021.
Listened to audiobook on Libby and looked at the illustrations in the print edition, as my holds on both came in around the same time.
The author of The School for Good and Evil takes on traditional fairy tales (plus the Little Mermaid) in this new collection, not for the faint of heart. There is violence, murder and betrayal in abundance. All the stories have characters of diverse skin tones, and they are linked with repeated phrases and musings on the meaning of beauty, gender roles, true love, and what it means to be a witch. Some stories have traditional evil witches, while some claim that a witch is a woman who refuses to let a man boss her around. Some have happier endings than the original – usually without the wedding in the original – while others turn tragic. Some girls and boys long to be married, while others shun it, and still others prefer the company of their own gender. Some of these twists I found horrifying, while I cheered or was moved by others. Snow White – named for the whites of her eyes – is Black, she and her mother both treated as outcasts for their skin color. But where her mother died, defeated, Snow White claims both her beauty and her power. Sleeping Beauty, both confusingly and disturbingly, seemed to be a same-sex vampire romance. Rapunzel loves her prince’s kisses, but would rather not be trapped in another tower as his wife. The witches in Hansel and Gretel and the Little Mermaid are both redeemed – that last story is essentially a monologue with the witch explaining why the Little Mermaid can’t really be experiencing true love and wouldn’t do well with a traditional prince. Polly Faber narrates in a lovely British accent, while Julia Iredale paints lovely watercolors, mostly grayscale, but at least one full color for each story. I am not sure that I’d want to read it again, but it has given me plenty to think about and I am definitely glad I read it.
There have been lots of scary stories this year – check out my post 3 Spine-Tinglers: The Plentiful Darkness, Long Lost, and Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares if you haven’t already.