Middle! Grade! Folk! Horror!
Guadalupe García McCall's The Keeper.
So, normally, I wouldn’t launch myself into your inbox in order to rave about a book that’s not due out for months and months. Because that seems so unfair.
I just finished it a few days ago, and… well, here I am.
James, his little sister, Ava, and their parents, have recently moved from Texas to a seemingly idyllic small town in Oregon. James is missing his best friends, but he can’t deny that everyone he meets in their new neighborhood—kids and grown-ups alike—is super-nice and extremely welcoming, and he definitely could get used to the fact that everyone really seems to be into giving out baked goods.
When he finds the first letter in his bedroom, he assumes that it’s from Ava, part of their endless—and epic—prank war. It’s creepy as all get-out, but he doesn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing that her trick worked. So he just throws it out.
When the second one shows up, he knows for sure that she had nothing to do with it.
They try to tell their parents, but because of the aforementioned pranks, their parents don’t believe them.
They start digging, and find out—among other things—that things haven’t always been so perfect in their neighborhood. That, in fact, a lot of kids from their neighborhood have gone missing over the years. And they start wondering… is one of them next?
Hold on, I need to run around a flail for a bit.
Okay, I’m back.
So, a chapter or so into The Keeper, I was like… wait. Am I just being super-suspicious, or are the people in this town WAY too friendly? Like, this realtor lady is REALLY invested in them liking the place. I mean. She already sold them the house, so why’s she still trying to convince them, right?
But then I kind of talked myself out of my own suspicion. For the first third or so, The Keeper is very much about James getting used to being in a new town, missing his friends, grieving the recent death of his grandmother.
And then, just as I’d dropped my guard, The Keeper went FULL. FOLK. HORROR.
I am just! so! delighted!! !!! !! ! !!!!
All I want to do is give you a play-by-play of what happens and how it all fits into the subgenre and how rad everything is, but I don’t want to go all spoiler-y before you even have the opportunity to read it.
So, I’ll just say this: I loved it. It’s about family and friendship and loss, sibling relationships and trust and curiosity. It’s about recognizing and appreciating our different strengths; about holding our loved ones close even after we’ve said our goodbyes; about making mistakes and atoning for them. It’s about taking responsibility and finding confidence.
It’s about people trying to control nature, and nature fighting back.
And it’s about how some people are very willing to cross what should be an uncrossable line, just because they want something.
Not because they need it, because they want it.
So, you know: it resonates.
It celebrates science AND magic; sports AND research.
It’s warm, it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s empathetic, and, at moments, it’s genuinely SCARY.
If middle grade horror is your jam, I highly recommend a pre-order—by the time it shows up in late January, you’ll have forgotten all about it, and you’ll appreciate the unexpected gift from your Past Self.
But wait, there’s more!
Since The Keeper hit on so many of my own personal favorite things, I checked in with Guadalupe García McCall to find out a little more about the various inspirations—which include the story of the Westfield Watcher—behind the book. Here’s some of what she said:
I myself grew up loving mysteries and horror. As a young child, I watched Scooby-Doo and soon graduated to The Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. In middle school, I read all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books and watched as many horror movies as my parents would allow. Some of my favorites were Dracula and Frankenstein, but I loved The Birds, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Tarantula. As a nature lover, anything that had spiders and other creepy crawlers fascinated me.
This horrified my mother, and she couldn't understand why I loved them if they gave me nightmares, which they did. If a movie got too scary, she would turn it off, but then she'd turn around and tell us bedtime stories about the cucuy, La Llorona, and lechuzas & naguales—witches and warlocks who came after children in their own communities!
More soon! (I’ve been blowing through horror movies & I’ve got a stacks more to read.)
Stay well, and as always, if you’ve got scary recommendations, I’m here for them.
I needed this encouragement because this does not start off in a promising manner. Will persevere.