Nightbooks, by J.A. White, is a horror story for middle school children. It is therefore not so graphic as the young adult genre, but scary enough to give young horror fans a good time.
Alex is a 12-year-old who is somewhat of an outcast in school as he is bullied by the other kids. This makes him a loner but he likes being on his own as this means he can do what he likes best — imagine and write horror stories. Yes, Alex loves to write and he is in his element when writing scary tales. This shocks his teachers and is the cause of all the bullying by other kids.
But things reach a turning point when Alex finds himself trapped in an enchanted apartment when he accidentally lands up on the wrong floor of his building. He becomes a prisoner of a witch named Natacha, who’s probably the only person who loves horror tales more than Alex.
This modern-day witch and horror tale takes cue from the plot of The Arabian Nights, with the witch demanding that Alex must tell her a terrifying story every night or he is in for some major trouble.
So readers now get bonus short horror stories within the story as it moves along the main plot of Alex trying to find a way out of the magic apartment and also help a fellow captive Yasmin in the process.
The plot is interesting while the magic and scary bits are great fun for kids to read. What I liked about the story was the absence of too many characters and so the focus wasn’t shifting too often from one to another.
However, since Alex is the protagonist, I felt his character could have been more developed and we would have known more about him than just a kid who loves to spin chilling tales. Yes, there is this angle of friendship developing between him and Yasmin since they are in the same problem, but overall the witch seemed most interesting of the lot.
Alex and Yasmin do escape and return to their homes and families, and the writer was able to wrap it up all nicely at the end. Nightbooks does seem to borrow from the plots of different popular tales but its treatment and twists are different and interesting — but only for horror story fans.
Published in Dawn, Young World, August 25th, 2018