Crooked Hills, Book One
Cullen Bunn

Earwig Press, Ages 9 and up, October 2011
Review by Darkeva

Remember that feeling of not ever wanting the book to end, so close to the end, but begging for so much more to be satisfied, when you were under the covers as a kid with a flashlight, up way past your bedtime? Crooked Hills will make you feel like that all over again. With obvious comparisons to Goosebumps and Cirque du Freak already mentioned in promotional materials, the delightful volume, first in a series, has already received a number of positive reviews (all months earlier than the publication date this month), and with good reason. Cullen Bunn (The Damned, The Sixth Gun) has introduced a delightfully spooky book for younger readers, his first foray into young adult fiction, and everything from the characterization to the tone to the dialogue is reminiscent of a great Hardy Boys adventure but updated for the twenty-first century.

Charlie Ward, his brother, Alex, and their mother embark on a summer vacation to Crooked Hills to visit their Aunt Mary and they think it’s going to be a pretty boring town with nothing to do, and that they’re going to hate it. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when they meet their vibrant cousin, Mitch, who leads them on one of the best-and scariest-adventures of their lives.

The scare factor does intensify as the book goes on, but my favorite thing about the book is the deliciousness of the nostalgic feelings it brings up even though it’s not set in the past, but it reminded me of programs like Are You Afraid of the Dark and the Tales from the Cryptkeeper cartoon that I used to watch as a young horror fan; these were mostly the things that shepherded me through the genre and led me to a lifelong lust for it (which has yet to be quenched and probably never will), and now the new generation of readers who may not have necessarily had Goosebumps or similar fare has, in the form of Crooked Hills, the book that will show them the path toward Stephen King, Clive Barker, and hopefully nurture them into lifelong devourers of the genre.

It’s a wonderful book for parents concerned about the lack of reading that their son does; although they may dip into comic books, let’s face it – their hands are probably glued to a video game controller or cell phone. The story is powerful enough to pull even the most reluctant reader in, if they give the book a fair chance.

The story revolves around one of the many ancient legends that exist about Crooked Hills, that of the dangerous witch, Maddie, who despite her cute moniker, is anything but cute. A curmudgeonly old woman, Mrs. Brewster, wants to bring Maddie back to life so she can terrorize Crooked Hills again (and, presumably, reward her with some kind of witchy powers), but Charlie has to stop these plans once his kid brother gets kidnapped and he fights with everything he has to save Alex.

One of the most fun, delightful reads (even for adults!), I will say that if you read only one YA book this year, Crooked Hills should be it without a question. It will remind you why you got into horror in the first place, and introduce you to a great story with a fantastic cast of characters that you won’t soon forget.

Rating: 4.5/5

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