Ted Danson: A Perfect Middle Grade Villain?
A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo, and a horror movie round-up.
I hope you had a great weekend.
While I’m well into Carmilla now—see my first recap here and please do entertain me with your thoughts on vampire stories here—I’m still reading lots of middle grade horror and horror-adjacent fiction. Today’s title is more in the horror-adjacent category, and reading it was a great reminder that, yes, even in October, sometimes I *do* love a lovely, warm story that celebrates family and friendship and community.
Reading: A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo
Twelve-year-old Tennessee—Tennie—Lancaster is the middle child, and the fixer in the family. When there’s tension, when someone is feeling bad and something can be done to help, Tennie is always, always the one to step in. Regardless of whether or not it’s something she wants to do, she does whatever it is that needs to be done to calm the waters.
Because Tennie has a secret: When she touches an object with her bare hands, she feels—and sometimes sees—other peoples’ memories. So she knows a whole lot more about people than they realize. She knows about her Mama’s sadness, she knows about her parents’ worries, she knows about the underlying troubles between family members. It’s a lot of worry and hurt to carry, and Tennie uses her power to be sure that she never, ever adds any weight to their various loads.
But then, while she’s staying at her grandmother’s house and hanging out with her new friend Fox—who she’s rapidly developing a crush on—she discovers that her power is more complicated than she thought: She can use it to call up ghosts, too.
I loved this one. (I’ve been on a good run lately!!)
It’s a great—and suspenseful—ghost story with a strong emotional core!
It’s a great story about a first crush and features a gentle, tentative romance!
It’s a great story with strong characterization, nuanced family dynamics, and it ESPECIALLY deals with intergenerational tension and how those kinds of hurts can get passed on down through the years!
I loved it for all of those reasons, but I ALSO loved it because:
• The villain! Is basically! The embodiment of capitalism!:
Mr. Bolton smiled pleasantly through Tennie’s saltiness. “But don’t they ever get tired of living small, Tennessee? Of just making do?” Mr. Bolton asked, his too-white dentures gleaming in the sun. “There’s so much opportunity available for those who aren’t too squeamish to reach out and take it.”
“I don’t see a thing wrong with living small, personally.”
Mr. Bolton leaned close enough for Tennie to smell his stale coffee breath and chewing gum. He dropped his voice. “A word of advice? Aim higher. Don’t get stuck here until you’re old. And run over anyone who blocks you on your way out.”
Ever since I read Kate Milford’s stupendous Greenglass House for the first time—I love that one so much that I’ve gone back and re-read it multiple times—a Certain Type of MG villain is played by Ted Danson in my mind’s eye, and this one absolutely falls into that category.
[To Ted Danson: I’m so sorry, Ted Danson!! I swear, this is all meant as a compliment to you and your abilities. You are very, very good at being Absurdly Charming and then turning on a dime into Quite Scary.]
Anyway, long story short, don’t enrich yourself just for the sake of enriching yourself MORE, to the detriment of the environment and other people, thank you for coming to my TedTalk.
• And speaking of the environment! A Touch of Ruckus also has a lovely undercurrent of environmentalism AND it’s EXTREMELY pro-crow, which is not always something that you see in books with horror elements.
• It ALSO features characters modelling some EXCELLENT behavior. There’s at least one really lovely pro-consent scene between Tennie and her crush, Fox; and then there’s a really nice apology moment where Fox’s father accidentally misgenders them & then takes the correction, corrects himself, and moves on, without making a big thing of the moment. Both moments were threaded really nicely into the narrative and felt like they could do some teaching without being Teachable Moments.
• Tennie’s power is basically souped-up empathy, and it’s portrayed as being both the gift and the burden that it is. She’s able to see and understand things about other people that are missed by most others; that ability results in her feeling responsible for those things and taking on much more weight than any one twelve-year-old should have to carry. Over the course of the book, she learns that taking care of herself, acknowledging her own feelings and desires, isn’t a selfish act; it’s a necessary one.
Ultimately—I feel that this is not a spoiler—it’s communication, community, and family that brings everything and (almost) everyone together and makes a happy ending possible. Which, given my current opinion of humanity, was a welcome message and got me more than a little weepy.
A Ted Danson interlude:
Added to the TBR:
Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie
The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny
The Last House on Needless Street, by Catriona Ward
The Ghost Collector, by Alison Mills
The Girls Are Never Gone, by Sarah Glenn Marsh (annddd pretty much everything else on this list that isn’t ALREADY on my TBR)
As of writing this, I’m 34 movies into my personal 61 Horror Movies in 61 Days challenge, so I’m very much on track to hit my goal by Halloween, woooo!
Highlights in this batch are:
• Death Smiles on a Murderer (Joe D’Amato, 1973): I talked about this one in my first Carmilla recap, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say, it is very Gothic-y and very bananas.
• Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015): Speaking of movies that are very Gothic-y and very bananas. I feel like it didn’t get a great response when it came out, and my impression is that that’s because it was marketed as a horror movie, when it’s a Gothic romance? I mean, sure, there are some crossover elements, but there are also some huge differences. Anyway, I LOVED IT and IT RULES and the visuals are STUNNING as are the COSTUMES and Mia Wasikowska’s wig is INCREDIBLE and Jessica Chastain is FANTASTIC and ALSO JIM BEAVER IS IN IT. Hiddleston does a great job of being a walking pile of red flags and STILL being weirdly attractive, so points to him as well.
• Dark August (Martin G. Goldman, 1976): This one is very much a YMMV pick, but I *really like* slow-burn 70s stories that depict people maybe being tormented by their own feelings, but also maybe being literally stalked by a demon? Also, I like weirdo scores with lots of clock-ticking and synthesizers, and ALSO I like when people wear an absurd amount of denim, and this one certainly features all of that.
A few links:
A review of A Touch of Ruckus at Charlotte’s Library.
A Banned Books Week Reading List from Pen America.
Trailer: I Know What You Did Last Summer (2021).
Twitter: You know you want to see more Ted Danson from Body Heat.
Talk to you soon,