Author: J.A. White
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: September 2018
J.A. White has coined a nifty new term with “nightbooks,” which in his story are the journals that the protagonist, Alex, uses to house his scary stories. Predictably, the boy is made fun of for his interest in horror, which spurs him to wander his apartment building alone at night and be lured into apartment 4E. I also like “nightbooks” as a way to categorize the types of things I read as October approaches. I generally like a touch of the bizarre in the fiction I read, but as soon as the weather turns crisp I want even more creepiness.
In apartment 4E is nothing less than a witch, Natacha. Alex is simply the latest youth to walk into her trap. She’s still young, a mere 29 or so, but devious and cruel nonetheless. Inside the parallel world of magic that keeps him bound, Alex also meets Yasmin, a fellow prisoner, and Lenore, a cat with human fingertips (if I read that right… for some reason this detail didn’t pay off with an explanation). Only after turning the final page did I realize how fun it was to read a book restricted to four main characters. It kept things tidy, even as the magic made a mess.
And the magic is cool, although nothing near HP levels of wonder. The focus is more on Alex’s love on stories, a passion that keeps him alive in the circumstances. Perhaps this is a book that only book-lovers can love, and even I hesitate around stories-about-stories or books-about-books. I did appreciate that the attempt at darkness in White’s tale served to emphasize the origins of middle grade literature. Take it from Natacha: “I’m a witch. You’re a child. We’re not going to play checkers. Ever read any fairy tales?” (I am reading some fairy tales now, and they are fascinating. I’m not sure I would call them scary, given the shell-like characters, but they are colorful and strange.)
The plot actually paid off in the end, featuring a tidy twist I didn’t see coming, as well as the complete absence of a love triangle. Alex and Yasmin were just a couple of friends forced together by chance and required to do battle against an ancient evil. Perhaps not a story that’s new under today’s sun, but a solid angle on it nonetheless.