I’ve been actively trying to read more middle-grade, especially the sort I wouldn’t have picked up as a kid. I probably wouldn’t have picked up a copy of Dread Wood back then, but I was very intrigued by it now. In my experience, a lot of kids’ horror can be a lot creepier than anything geared at adults, so I was very excited. I was lucky enough to recieve an e-book copy of this book through Write Read Tours.
In this book, we follow a group of four Year 7 students: Angelo, Hallie, Naira and Gustav, as they have to deal with detention on a Saturday. After having their phones taken away, their teacher disappears, and the only staff they can find are the creepy caretakers who won’t stop humming Itsy Bitsy Spider. Something dark is going on in the school, and these four classmates have to be the ones to figure it out.
The first thing I want to do is praise Killick for the four main characters. If you went to high school in the UK, you know what year 7s are like. They’ve just gotten out of primary school and started high school, so they still think they’re big and tough. Many of them are very annoying because of this, and the kids in this book behaved perfectly. It felt like I was seeing actual kids being portrayed, not just 11 to 12-year-olds, how so many people think they should behave. They weren’t sweethearts and innocent. They were somewhat crass – with some limitations due to the age range of the book obviously – and they were having fun with it. I really appreciated that.
Story-wise this book was pretty creepy. You have the one teacher disappearing alongside some animals and these weird old people who are going around humming a nursery rhyme. Not something you’d expect to see in a school. But that made it more interesting than it would have been at a campsite or somewhere similar. The villains were people that you genuinely dislike. There is a back story as to why they have chosen this school and now to act out. But the way they do it – aside from the spiders – is pretty horrible. Yes, these kids deserved to be taught a lesson, but not killed by giant spiders. I am pretty sure both Angelo and I could be somewhat okay with having a giant pet spider. Provided that it did not eat other animals we love.
I also liked that Angelo had some knowledge of spiders. It was interesting reading what he knew, but I felt like he might have had a bit more knowledge. I could guess what a few of the spiders were that he just gave names to, so it’s a little odd that he didn’t make guesses about their species. I like animal documentaries too, but I’ve not watched many on spiders as I live with a sister who is scared of them. So someone who loves them should’ve known a little more. That’s just a tiny critique though, and it didn’t take anything away from my enjoyment. It’s just me being nit-picky.
If you’re an animal lover, then you should be warned that there’s plenty of animal death in here. It’s suggested that a pig has been eaten, and you see a few chickens get grabbed. They are killed by the spiders for food, so that bothered me a little less though I was sad. But you should be warned. The spiders themselves are also dealt with at the end, and there was a particular line about a baby spider that upset me, but overall it’s not too bad. It’s a kid’s book after all, so it’s not going to be too painful. But it won’t be for everyone.
This is the first book in a series with these kids, and I’m planning on carrying on with it. The second book looks completely different, and I’m very intrigued. There’s something about a game, and that sounds right up my alley when it comes to horror and mysteries.
I wouldn’t say this book was a new favourite, but it was a fast and very enjoyable read. If you’re looking for something creepy to dig your teeth into any time soon, then I highly recommend picking this book up.
Title: Dread Wood
Author: Jennifer Killick
Age Range: Middle-grade
Release Date: 31/3/22
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