Friday, October 21, 2011
100 Books 57 - Cullen Bunn's CROOKED HILLS
Crooked Hills is one of those great rarities in this world: something that almost makes me wish that I had children. Almost.
Written primarily for the sort of precociously goofy (or perhaps, goofily precocious) middle school kid that is the age I like best to spend time with when, e.g., substitute teaching or hanging out with friends with kids, Crooked Hills has a lot of grody, spooky charm to recommend it. Our young protagonist, Charlie Ward (whose middle name I really hope is actually Dexter), on a forced vacation from Chicago to a tiny town in the backwoods that is purported "the most haunted in America" quickly gets over his city kid snit and develops an enthusiasm for the slimy, shadowy, legend-riddled hometown of his country cousin that is infectious and fun to read.
Soon he is knee-deep in mud, pine needles, folklore and fetch hunting; the sighting of a possible ghost dog with eerie "human-like eyes" sends him, cousin Marty, little brother Alex, and slingshot-toting tomboy pal Lisa on a hunt after not just a ghost but a witch's ghost. Along the way they encounter more mundane hazards (like a pair of neighborhood bullies) and make an interesting study of the intersection of folklore and fact, all the while re-enacting the style of Marty's beloved Hardy Boys books (with the adrenaline cranked up to 11).
What makes this for me is Charlie's narrative voice. He is precocious but still believable as a smart, curious kid who is still susceptible to a good fart joke or a well-placed can of tarantulas. He has a strong moral center and his genuine concern for his little brother is often very touching; he is also personally courageous as he demonstrates over and over again. Were I a parent, I would feel good about having a kid who wanted to be like Charlie.
I was hoping this book would be a good follow-up gift for my little friend who so loves Brand Gamblin's Tumbler but alas, I think it might be too scary for her. Bunn's background in writing for comics means every chapter ends on a hair-raising cliff-hanger that keeps the reader turning the pages but might give some more delicate sensibilities a bad case of nightmares. If you or your little ones enjoy a good goosebump-raiser, though, this is definitely for you.
But don't be surprised if everyone in your house takes to screaming "I bury all your cows!"