The Clearing

Vesuvian. Aug. 2021. 264p. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781645480716.
Gr 7 Up–Hiking in the woods near her rural New Hampshire home, Hannah is shocked when her dog emerges from the brush dragging a pink Converse with a decomposing foot inside. With help from impulsive best friend Ashley, and eventually looping in Hannah’s recently single dad and a rogue town cop, as well as an old family friend and a witness to an earlier, related crime, Hannah plays Nancy Drew to expose not only an unsolved murder but the existence of a decades-old witchcraft cult. A lot of other things are happening. Mom is AWOL for still unknown reasons and may be somehow involved with the cult, Dad might be gay, a romance is budding with pimply classmate Marcus Diaz. The setting for the cult rituals resembles a scene from Lovecraft, a clearing, a stone altar, crude stick dolls hanging from trees, and existential dread. But the story never quite gets to the moody fever pitch of genre horror, relying instead on extensive character development and suspenseful plot devices to keep things engaging. Mama Bayole, the apparently undead leader of the cult, is described as Black and of uncertain origin. She has a reputation as a “voodoo priestess” and her speech is represented in an ostensibly Jamaican dialect, an unnecessary and ill-considered racial stereotype.
VERDICT An additional purchase for middle or high school collections in need of suspense with a light touch of the supernatural.

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