Friday, April 10, 2020

Short Book Reviews: A Middle Grade Heroine Takes on Gothic Horror

Rewritten (Unwritten series, book two), by Tara Gilboy (Jolly Fish Press)

Gracie, a preteen whose life has been spent in hiding, has come to terms with having been created as a villainous character in a book written by Gertrude Winters. Her life is marginally better after the adventures in Unwritten  (reviewed here), since she and her best friend, Thomas, along with various other people, are squashed into Gertrude’s house. Not only that, the archvillain, Cassandra, is still at large, armed with the magical book, the Vademecum, which allows her to travel between real and literary worlds. Cassandra is no less obsessed with Gracie as her heir and adopted daughter. And now she’s using the Vademecum to track Gracie’s every thought and movement.

Meanwhile, Gracie stumbles on a box of Gertrude’s unpublished stories, tales in which the writer worked out her troubled relationship with her own daughter. Some are benign, like the one set on a cruise ship, but one was so dark, so filled with danger and gloom, that Gertrude refused to allow Gracie to read it. And it is into this Gothic horror story that Gracie and Thomas flee, with Cassandra on their heels.

The world of The Beast of Blackwood Hall is a parade of Gothic tropes: the isolated manor house, the wintry forest, the mysterious disappearances and even more mysterious illness; the newly deceased mother; the family curse; the monster that lurks in the shadows. All of these are intensified by the limitations that the story itself places on Gracie and Thomas, for they cannot escape beyond the confines of the story, which is inexorably drawing to its fatal climax.

As with the first book, Unwritten, Gilboy’s tale offers much to the adult as well as the middle grade reader. The issues are not watered down or simplistic. She never condescends to her young audience. Rather, she trusts them to understand complex emotions, and that is perhaps the most compelling aspect of these books. Children become trustworthy by being trusted; they grow into emotionally mature adults by being presented with ambiguity and nuance.
Gracie . . . thought back to her conversations with Gertrude. “She said the monster was a metaphor for something, the dark parts of ourselves.” . . . She’d written the stories the way she had to avoid hurting real people, to put all her feelings onto the page, rather than lashing out at those she loved. 
“Every story we read becomes a part of who we are in a small way.”

Gilboy’s stories definitely fall into that category.

No comments:

Post a Comment