As we’re in October and Halloween is nearing, I’m going to shift my reviews to those in the horror genre. I’m starting with Scratches, by Joshua Marsella.
Connor and his single mom, Janet, move from an apartment to the family house, after Janet’s father died. Janet has kept secrets from her twelve-year-old son, who never met his grandfather before his death. Janet has not even told Connor about his father.
Of course, Connor is curious about the rest of the family beyond his mother. But she’s tight-lipped about it. Connor makes do with not knowing, and he has to deal with his mother drinking a lot and not acting in a loving way.
Joshua Marsella does a good job setting the scene and building the suspense in this book. When watching horror movies, you can yell at the characters, “Don’t go into the basement! The evil creature’s down there! What are you thinking?!” In this book, not only does Connor go into the basement, he relocates his bedroom down there (saying it’s cooler than the hot bedroom on the ground floor).
Connor is a fan of horror movies and comics, and he experiences horrors down in that basement. (As a fan of comics, I enjoyed Connor reading them and even visiting a comic book store.) The creepiness starts small and builds, the way you want in a scary story. Joshua brings the basement visitations to life with smells and sights and sounds. With these rich descriptions, you can easily imagine what poor Connor goes through.
Connor is persistent in wanting to find out answers behind the creepiness, as well as the family secrets that his mom keeps hidden. Those answers come out, leading to a rush of action in the last chapters. And I give kudos to Joshua for not crafting an ending that neatly wraps up everything. He lets your imagination wonder about what could happen next to the characters.