Thursday, 11 April 2013

review: Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault

by Adam-Troy Castro; illustrated by Kristen Margiotta
Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin), April 18 2013
middle-grade paranormal
ARC received from publisher (thank you!)

Fernie What's new friend Gustav Gloom can't leave his front yard, and his house is full of sentient shadows. But things get weird -- well, weirder -- a lot faster when an ice cream man-slash-shadow eater shows up, demanding for the Nightmare Vault. As secrets about Gustav's past are revealed, Fernie and Gustav race to stay one step ahead of the shadow-eater... and the potential demise of their world.
The cover:

There's something off about this cover. I don't think the diagonal skewing does it any favours, and the odd lighting plus lack of background context sort of washes out the illustration. The door is a nifty transparent foil to the image behind the cover, though, which is cool and should totally happen more.

The book:

The reason why I love middle-grade (well, one of the myriad reasons, at least) can be found in the style of this book. Written in third-person limited from Fernie's point-of-view, the narration is filled with sly, deadpan humour and simple but telling details that mark this as middle-grade:
"The man walked into my house and ate my shadow. Don't you think I might have a few things to say?"
Gustav seemed a little stunned and humbled by the reminder. "I'm sorry, Fernie. I almost forgot all about what he did to you. You're right. That was pretty rude of him, too."
"Not just pretty rude," Fernie said. "Cosmically rude."
Gustav seemed to appreciate that. "He is a big jerk, isn't he?"
"And he's smelly," Fernie added.
Gustav cocked his head a little. "I know I never got all that close, but I didn't notice the smelly part. Is he really?"
Fernie thought back to her first meeting with the man. "No. It's just something else to say as long as we're calling him names. He wasn't smelly. We can erase the smelly."
"That's not necessary. I'm perfectly okay with calling him smelly. I was just checking." Gustav held the door open for her and offered her a little bow. "After you." (p. 117)
The writing isn't perfect; you'll see in the above quote two instaces of "Gustav seemed" at the start of sentences, and proper nouns could often be replaced by pronouns. Occasional telling instead of showing occurs, which grows irritating as a lot of random running action is described.

But it's easy enough to forgive all that with Fernie and Gustav at front and centre: their friendship develops with all the growing pains an MG relationship desrves, even though this is a sequel and their friendship is already established. Gustav's backstory is intriguing enough to make me want the third book in the series, and Fernie's sister and father are just plain awesome.

The paranormal aspects are well-done but not over-done, and there's enough of an overarching plot to assure readers that this isn't a series full of one-shot adventures. And so I hereby proclaim middle-grade paranormal to be the next big trend. ;)

Ethnic balance: 1 out of 5. Unfortunately, only one family is mentioned, and the rest are ghosts, so...

Rating: 4.2 out of 5