A boy who loves writing scary stories finds himself in one.
- Rating: ★★★★☆
- Genre: Fantasy
- Age group: Middle grade
- Content warnings: Animal abuse, death
- Recommended for readers who want a more modern fantasy spin on the tale of Hansel and Gretel.
Blurb from Goodreads:
A boy is imprisoned by a witch and must tell her a new scary story each night to stay alive. This thrilling contemporary fantasy from J. A. White, the acclaimed author of the Thickety series, brings to life the magic and craft of storytelling.
Alex’s original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping the witch Natacha happy, but soon he’ll run out of pages to read from and be trapped forever. He’s loved scary stories his whole life, and he knows most don’t have a happily ever after. Now that Alex is trapped in a true terrifying tale, he’s desperate for a different ending—and a way out of this twisted place.
This modern spin on the Scheherazade story is perfect for fans of Coraline and A Tale Dark and Grimm. With interwoven tips on writing with suspense, adding in plot twists, hooks, interior logic, and dealing with writer’s block, this is the ideal book for budding writers and all readers of delightfully just-dark-enough tales.
Alex’s scary stories: This kid could’ve teamed up with Stephen Gammell and traumatized every childhood ten times more. I mean, the stories were more suspenseful than scary, but that’s my kind of horror. The “Lost Dog” story was my favorite. Imagine the illustration that could’ve completed it. Imagine the illustration for every story. I want this to happen.
Alex: I like a protagonist who’s a writer and an outcast without being a grimdark edgelord. Alex has a dark, twisted imagination compared to his peers, but he wishes he didn’t because it doesn’t make him easy to accept. He also struggles with writer’s block and I like how Yasmin, the other captive who becomes his friend, manages to help him. The banter between them is fairly amusing.
Lenore: I love pets that have humanlike personalities in books. Lenore has an attitude and can turn invisible, so she’s always keeping an eye on the kids, but she’s just doing her job as the witch’s cat.
Hansel and Gretel retelling: I’m usually not interested in retellings, but I like witches. Natacha wasn’t very frightening as a witch, though. She was more like a hot-tempered, self-entitled bully on a power trip. I’m sure it would be scary in person, but it wasn’t quite so on paper. She wasn’t totally uninteresting, at least. She perceives a darkness in Alex like her own and has some relatability.
Unicorns: They weren’t the nicest, but there were unicorns and I appreciate that.
Not that scary: Yeah, yeah, I know it’s middle grade, but this read as if it were intended for an even younger audience. Alex’s stories were scarier than the story itself.
Slightly rushed ending: It wasn’t the worst ending. I mean, it worked. I just think the twist could’ve happened earlier and thus the story could’ve been scarier.
Although it’s not the scariest middle grade novel, Nightbooks was an enjoyable read overall. It’s fun and a Neil Gaiman type of creative with themes of friendship and staying true to yourself. Apparently, a Netflix film adaptation is in the works and I’m looking forward to watching it!
But I quickly discovered that real darkness isn’t fun, like in stories. People die. You can’t click the backspace key and bring them back to life again. I hated it. It’s not who I am at all.J.A. White, Nightbooks