Monday, 4 June 2012

A Spooky Thrill

Witchy Liz’s spell for a spooky YA thriller (shamelessly stolen from a recipe by James Dawson): A dash of Mean Girls A sprinkling of the Craft Essence of The Crucible One creepy Yorkshire wood A murder (or two) of ravens Blend together (in your witchey cauldron) with a dollop of dark humour and an exciting new voice in YA fiction. James Dawson has cast quite a spell with his debut YA novel Hollow Pike. It is a chilling tale of witchiness, set in the (perhaps even more terrifying) cut-throat world of secondary school. Lis London moves to Hollow Pike to make a new start and leave the bullies from her last school behind her. But when she arrives she finds something scary and impossible – the same stream she’s seen in her recurring nightmare where a mystery figure tries to drown her. The new school turns out to be another sort of nightmare as Lis comes up against Queen Bee Laura Rigg who thrives on making people miserable. Is it better to be with Laura than to be her victim? Or will Lis risk Laura’s torment by choosing to hang out with the ‘freaks’, Kitty, Delilah and Jack, who are rumoured to be witches? Soon enough events in Hollow Pike take a murderous turn, and Lis isn’t sure if she can trust anyone. I love a ‘witch’ tale, but always find it much spookier when they are rooted in ‘real’ witch history, like one of my favourite books –Julie Hearn’s The Merrybegot. The idea of terrified girls, social outcasts and local wise-women being forced to stand trial and confess devilish activity before being executed is so horribly frightening because it really happened. So I was delighted to find that Hollow Pike is steeped in witch folklore, with quotations from The Malleus Malificarum – a treatise on witches written in 1486 and used as a ‘handbook’ by witchfinders. The town of Hollow Pike is haunted by the story of the executions centuries ago of young girls who were thought to be witches. There is a paranormal edge to the story as well, but the main message of the book, for me, is that it is what humans are capable of that is the most frightening thing of all. This is brought home by the parallel story of Lis’s nightmares with the real-life nightmares she experiences at school at the hands of Laura Rigg. Laura’s tactics of spreading rumours and cruel comments, while at the same time remaining the beautiful and intriguing ruler of the school, make Lis feel powerless to fight back – much like the helpless sleeper in the grip of a terrifying dream. It is only when she sides with the ‘freaks’ and finds real friendship that she feels she can get revenge. These aspects of the story had me thinking of Mean Girls and (perhaps more) The Craft – with the idea of social outcasts drawn towards the supernatural. But the book is far more than this for two reasons: James Dawson’s frighteningly accurate knowledge of the teenage mind, and a heavy dose of dark humour. The dialogue of the teenage characters ensures the story is grounded in real life at all times, even if otherworldly things were going on, and make the world of Hollow Pike easy to relate to. This was particularly important in the romance storyline between Lis and lovely Danny Marriott (imagine Aaron Johnson in a rugby kit. I did. Frequently). Their initially awkward and unsure encounters – including texts and a date at Pizza Hut – provided touching moments of reality among the scariness. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the scariness – the book made me jump, wary of turning off the light, and gave me a slight phobia of birds, which only the best horror stories do. (Oh and I confidently thought I’d worked out the mystery and was ever so completely wrong – curse you, James Dawson!)

No comments:

Post a Comment