Do you remember the book that had you looking over your shoulder as you rushed down the hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night? The one that made you leave the light on, keep the closet door closed, and mutter prayers under your breath?
My first ever frightening story was in the form of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. And although it was obtained in my elementary school library, it was a case of mis-classified content for a third grader. The disturbing pictures and tales seemed to be meant for a much older crowd, and caused me nightmares for weeks on end. Please understand; this is a well executed book- but how I wish it had not been my first. Instead of easing in, I was thrown headlong into a terrifying world of urban legend.
What I would have preferred to begin with, is a book like Mothman’s Curse. Christine Hayes has cleverly penned a story that keeps the reader intrigued, with the appropriate amount of scary for the age group.
This take on the classic Mothman legend sees Josie Fletcher and her family get caught up in a curse that has trapped people for over 100 years. When she unwittingly puts on an ill-fated broach, she is pulled into the Mothman’s latest plot to continue his immortality. She’s aided and abetted by her brothers, and the ghost of the man who committed suicide to try to end the curse himself.
The story is complex, with a strong first person narrative. Josie’s voice is authentically pre-teen. Hayes use of elongated vowels and capitals to emphasize the main character’s surprise or frustration is funny, and accurate. It’s easy to imagine her chatting away as the story unfurls. It keeps the heavy subjects light, and gives the reader an insight into the mind of a girl who has a lot on her plate, but doesn’t ask for sympathy. She’s recently lost her mother, making her personal struggle to come to terms with her own life as challenging as the circumstances that surround her.
As tensions mount, and terrible things are foretold for Athens (Josie’s hometown) Hayes takes the opportunity to show the reader that the worst circumstances can bring out the best in people, and that help is there if you ask for it. Family, friends, and strangers come together in attempt to avert disaster. Personal tragedy and supernatural circumstance is intertwined, and at the cathartic climax, it’s clear Josie is uniquely qualified to face this villain, becoming a champion for those who have lost as much as she has, and facing her own fears about the afterlife, in the process.
Something else that struck me about this story- and what truly cemented the fact that Hayes knows her audience, is the way she has constructed the ending. I have always found the most terrifying stories remain unresolved, or worse, the evil character gets away with whatever evil plot he’s decided upon, and that is that. Mothman’s Curse does not follow this trend. It’s a creepy read- but the author takes the time to explain the circumstances, and also to provide a concrete ending that won’t have a middle grader looking into shadowy corners after dark. This isn’t to say she’s underestimated them either, dealing with mature themes and monstrous entities- so it may spark useful conversation, or questions. Definitely one to discuss around the table if death or suicide hasn’t been something that’s been broached ahead of time.
James K Hindle’s illustrations are sleek, simple, and well executed. They bring a sense of whimsy to the plot, and humanize the characters in an approachable way. I particularly love the way the broach is used as a chapter heading, reminding the reader of it’s constant, ominous presence.
Hayes has succeeded in making this scary story a welcoming doorway into further frights. May it be the one your child finds when they are looking for their first chill and thrill on their elementary school bookshelf.