Today’s middle grade creepy, action tale features a brilliant cautionary tale for those who like to keep unusual pets at home. We received Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Reaching for her dream, Limpy unleashes a cute, fluffy, NIGHTMARE …
Keep in a cold, dark place. That’s what’s written like some ancient law on every bag of potatoes the family farms. And it’s where Limpy fears she will always remain.
It’s also carved on a box of spheres she discovers in the cellar. Spheres that hatch.
Cute at first, the creatures begin to grow. Then the chickens disappear. The cat is hunted. And something sets the barn ablaze. To survive, Limpy will need to face her greatest fear. The whole family will. Or they may end up in a cold, dark place indeed.
Limpy is the only daughter in her family and was unlucky enough to have her mother die while giving birth to her. Her father is so stricken by grief that he keeps a potato-sack effigy of his dead wife in their home, her brothers are alternately bullying and selectively mute and Limpy wants nothing more than to escape her dreary existence and go to art school far away from their failing potato farm. After discovering a strange box in the potato cellar, Limpy begins to hope that maybe her impossible dream isn’t so unlikely after all…but at the same time, she may have just unleashed an unholy terror onto the farm that could be the end of her broken family.
I thoroughly enjoyed this original and layered middle grade horror-action story. Other reviewers have compared the story to the film Gremlins and there are certainly shades of that fun film in the parts of the book relating to the “pets” that Limpy discovers, but in addition to that, Stewart has crafted an emotional story about grief, moving on and coping with change that is forced upon you. There’s a definite atmosphere of oppression and depression that emanates from the descriptions of the farm and the town in general and the reader can definitely understand Limpy’s deep need for escape. The depictions of Limpy’s family life were, at times, difficult to read as the grief and anger of her father, particularly, is raw and toxic despite the passing of time.
When the creatures that Limpy discovers stop being so cute and fluffy in favour of being more scaly and rampaging, the book alternates between bursts of chaotic action and poignant personal discoveries, as Limpy and her family face their deepest fears in order to save themselves. Part of the emotional draw at the end of the story, I think, depends on the fact that Limpy is the only girl in this part of the story, and it is her older brothers and father (as well as some male neighbours) that have to put aside their bravado and acknowledge those things that make them frightened and hold them back.
I love that the author has selected a monster that isn’t so common in children’s literature, or “monster” stories generally, so the book provides an opportunity for young readers to discover a legend that they may not have encountered before. I would highly recommend this book to adventurous young readers who enjoy action and fantasy elements blended with real-life problems.
Until next time,