In Review: Scare Scape
Published by Scholastic, August 27, 2013. Hardcover, 298 pages at $16.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, 3rd to 7th grade. Includes 45 pages of “The Monster Deck” illustrated by Sam Bosma, describing the attributes of some of the book’s deadly creatures.
Note: I read an advanced copy of this book, so anything could have changed before publication.
The cover: Wonderful jacket art by Sam Bosma, with jacket design credited to Phil Falco. The book’s protagonist Morton Clay is going into the attic of his family’s new home. An eerie green glow radiates from around him, allowing us to see the enormous gristle grunt behind him, its sole yellow-red eye is focused on the young boy. If this muscular monster doesn’t get him, the flesh-eating cockroach on the box behind him will. Or maybe the beast with purple legs that clutches the attic door will. Or the tentacled green creature before him will be his undoing. So many ways to perish. This is the perfect cover to tell readers what they’re in for, should they read this book: A boy versus a slew of monsters. And there’s even more art on the back cover! Morton’s older brother and sister, James and Melissa, are already battling the beasts. James has two tennis rackets and Melissa sports a wicked sword. Surrounding them are acid-spitting frogs, a king-crab spider, a greater spotted wargle snarf, and various tentacles and oozing slime that comes from who knows where. A great balance of gross and cool by Bosma. Fantastic! Overall grade: A+
The premise: From the press release: “Morton is a huge fan of the comic book Scare Scape, so he isn’t easily frightened: he’s not afraid of the dark, or grossed-out by bugs and slugs. But when Morton and his siblings, James and Melissa, find an old stone statue buried in the yard of their new house, they discover that sometimes–in real life–there is good reason to be afraid…Toxic vapor worms, shark hounds, king-crab spiders, and two-headed mutant rodents are just a few of the beasts featured in Scare Scape. They are vicious. They are terrifying. There are–luckily–totally made up. Right?” The lead is a fan of creepy comics? Okay…Hidden stone statue buried in the yard…Better…odd sounding monsters? I was interested with the mention of toxic vapor worms. Let’s get this story going! Overall grade: A
The characters: Morton Clay is an easily relatable characters for young readers: the new kid in town, raised by a single father (whose night job doesn’t allow him to be with his children enough), and overly fixated on the monsters in a comic book series. He’s sad he and his brother aren’t as close as they once were, while his sister is too busy with her own friends to want to deal with him. Poor Morton’s the classic neglected youngest child, and moving to a new town only exasperates this family’s disharmony. However, when supernatural trouble begins, poor, little Morton is the one with all the answers. Moving away from his younger brother, James is trying to fit in as well, but something really bad happens to him, though he doesn’t see it as a negative. His character is the “countdown clock” that must be saved before it’s too late. Older sister Melissa is a queen bee, who wants only to be running a clique of her own, but changes quite dramatic and positive occur as the book progresses. Their father is a one dimensional character. He cares for his children, but that’s about it. Robbie Bolan is Morton’s only fiend at school. Their love of Scare Scape brings them together. Robbie has a painful hidden history that separates the two boys, but you know they’ll reconcile. Melissa’s one friend, Wendy, like Mr. Clay, isn’t a fully developed character. There are hints of a backstory, but they’re ignored to focus on the plot. Not necessarily a bad thing, but she could have been omitted from the book easily. There are two other adults in the book of importance, both male, and each is constantly being tweaked so that that reader cannot tell which is evil and which is good. I feel into this trap often and was impressed at the ease with which author Sam Fisher does this. Overall grade: B+
The settings: The home of the Clays have moved into is a wonderful crumbling mansion, where secret attics and any room could contain dust bunnies or monsters. It would be a playground of discovery for any tweener and an embarrassment for a teen. Most of the book’s action is set there, and I was happy anytime Fisher had his characters exploring. The school in Dimvale (which is a terrific name for a “dark” town) is an “old brick building with tall, narrow windows and a large fenced-in yard.” This is a good reinforcement of the age of the town, and made the Clays new home seem not so old. Overall grade: A
The action: When the monsters appear there’s a great sense of frantic energy: the kids know how to beat the beasts, but whether they can get the courage to do so is the question. The action sequence at school was good; naturally the children see everything and the adults nothing. The final battle is full of surprises, with cats being major players. I did want there to be more action in the novel as the dialogue in between really seemed to drag. The action is good, the non-action scenes made me impatient. Overall grade: A
The conclusion: Very well done, very cinematic, and left somewhat open for future adventures. This novel by itself is complete, and if this is a stand alone book without a sequel (a rare thing in publishing), it would be fine. Overall grade: A
The final line: A nice mixture of tween obsession becoming useful when fictional monsters come to life. Who wouldn’t enjoy battling spooky, gross comic book characters? Sure to please those who have ever wondered, “What if…?” Overall grade: A
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for a few years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” He had to give that up to teach 8th graders English for 10 years. He’s since moved to a high school where he taught 9th grade and currently teaches 10th graders English. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars or Indiana Jones items online.