March 20, 2018

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Nightbooks by J.A. White | SLJ Review

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redstarWHITE, J.A. Nightbooks. 304p. Harper­Collins/­Katherine Tegen Bks. Jul. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062560087.

Gr 4-6 –A spine-tingling dark fantasy about the power of facing down fears and choosing your own fate. Alex loves horror stories, but the night he sets out to destroy his beloved “nightbooks”—notebooks full of his original tales—he finds himself trapped by a witch in an enchanted apartment. Natacha, the capricious witch, requires Alex to tell her one of his horror stories each night, or else. As Alex runs out of stories, he enlists the help of the apartment’s other trapped occupants, a cautious girl named Yasmin and the witch’s begrudging cat, Lenore, to find a way to escape. White has crafted a chilling fractured fairy tale mash-up of “Hansel and Gretel” and “One Thousand and One Nights.” The book is full of horror tropes such as bone keys, disappearing rooms, an unhinged but sympathetic villain, and a child-eating witch. But it’s more than just a grisly fairy tale. Alex and Yasmin are never reduced to caricatures, and they react to their imprisonment in believable and nuanced ways. At its heart, it is a coming-of-age story about kindness and friendship and the importance of choosing to use one’s own power for the good of others. VERDICT Fans of gloomy fare such as Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” Adam Gidwitz’s “Grimm” books, or Neil Gaiman’s Coraline will find an equally twisting and terrifying tale here. An excellent addition to any middle grade collection.–Bridgid Gallagher-Sauter, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2018 issue.

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