The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever since I kind of immersed myself into weird horror for adults, I've been trying to figure out how you can translate the sort of existential dread into a middle grade or YA audience. Especially when horror for kids typically means R L Stine or Christopher Pike, the room for the sort of creepy thing that I'm looking for seems difficult to nail down.
The Night Gardener, though, is probably the template I'd use. A little unsettling and plenty creepy without going too far over the top, it's maybe the closest thing to Weird For Kids we might see, and it's worth your attention.
The story revolves around two children who are servants at a very old home in Ireland. The house has a large, imposing tree on the premises, and everyone who lives at the home seems a little sickly and off. Then the nightmares start. And then there are footprints. And it all seems related to that tree.
It's a classic tale in a sense. Part ghost story, part creepy tale, its flaw may be the tone it has to balance for its audience and the length, which felt a little more overlong than it perhaps needed to be. These are minor flaws, though, as adult readers know what they're getting into and, if you're really into the setting and such, spending a little extra time won't mind.
Perfect as an exercise to see the boundaries pushed in fiction for young people, and especially great for those kids who like to be creeped out a bit. Definitely worth your time.
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