The Nightmare Thief

Sourcebooks. Jan. 2021. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781728215341.
Gr 3-8–Disaster strikes the magical New England town of Rockpool Bay. Maren Partridge, described as having pink and green braids, shares her family’s talent for dreammaking but lives a nightmare. Her older sister Hallie, blond with freckles, is in a coma, and Maren’s parents can’t pay the medical bills. Maren promises her Gran-Gran Lishta she will follow the family’s dream contract and not give a dream without consent, but petrified over her sister’s prognosis, Maren sneaks Hallie healing dreams. Observed by the malicious, dark-haired Ms. Malo, Maren is blackmailed into making nightmares. Matters worsen when Malo traps Maren, her curly haired friend Amos, and her Gran-Gran in an abandoned theater. Malo tortures them with nightmares in an elaborate revenge plot on Rockpool Bay. Maren’s ingenuity and a French-speaking parrot save the day. What begins as a sweet fantasy conceit grows into an intense adventure with vivid horror elements. Lesperance fully develops Maren’s gut-wrenching emotions, from her fear for her sister and her family’s finances, to violating her Gran-Gran’s trust, to the dread of exposure, to the absolute terror of being held captive under constant threat of anaphylactic shock (Maren is allergic to bees, and Malo surrounds her with magical ones). The detailed descriptions of Rockpool Bay’s safe, nurturing magic contrast with Malo’s creeping dream-induced evil. The happy ending may be pat, but readers will appreciate some joy after going through the wringer. None of the characters have race or skin tone described.
VERDICT A hair-raising, nontraditional horror novel with fantastical elements. Will have universal appeal for children who don’t mind a scare.

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