Friday, August 03, 2012

Threat Level Very Scary: Jennifer McMahon, Doug Wilhelm

Summer reading includes catching up on some scary tales and topics. I found two slim novels in the stack to be un-put-down-able in July, and I recommend both, for VERY different reasons.

Jennifer McMahon enjoys her daughter's new love of horror films. McMahon herself, who resides in Vermont, has spun her own share of terror on the page. Somehow I missed her 2008 book when it came out: ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS. Who would have guessed that Peter Rabbit could become a scary character? Well, not exactly the cuddly bunny type -- this one is clearly an adult in a rabbit suit, who walks off with a small girl from a car outside a convenience store. The abduction is one of the sharp saw teeth of increasing despair and confusion, as McMahon whips back and forth between 2006, and 1993, when terrible events were taking place in the lives of today's adults, then children. This is emphatically not  a book for kids, and I'd even hesitate about giving it to an older teen; the topics are hard to handle. But boy, is it good. Check the website:

TRUE SHOES by Doug Wilhelm is the new hit of the middle school/junior high crowd, and deserves every bit of acclaim (the first printing actually ran out! fear not, the publisher has printed more). Although it's technically a sequel to Wilhelm's popular The Revealers, it works fine as a solo book. And why do adults (like me) want to read it? (1) Every scrap of detail about cliques and bullying rings true in both today's world and our own younger days. Russell's life is totally American junior high/early high school. (2) Despair -- especially leading to teen suicide or murder -- and courage are both part of our days. We need to name them and claim the courage part. Russell is my kind of reluctant hero. I feel as though I've known him and hope he'll text here soon. (3) Wilhelm's storytelling is smooth, exhilarating, a great ride in a work of fiction that insists on being "real." Oh, you want some plot details? A crowd of powerful stylish girls is brutally ruining people's lives through rumor and malicious teasing. Russell and his mostly "outcast" friends -- the ones that share the cafeteria table where nobody else would want to be seen -- are easy targets. Romantic triangle, parental problems, reluctant rescuers ... it's all here. Surprise the teens in your life by knowing this book before they do. It'll steal an evening or two out of your summer, and live in your heart. Website:

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