The Blurb On The Back:
Welcome to Dread Wood High.
It’s a scream …
Flinch is a game of fear. The more you scare your friends, the more points you get on the app. But things are about to get WEIRD …
Angelo and his friends start to investigate who is behind the game. Is it the people wearing the super-creepy clown masks? With adrenaline pumping and the fair arriving in town, it’s time for the REAL games to begin!
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
You can order DREAD WOOD – FEAR GROUND by Jennifer Killick from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK. I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s March, four months after the events in DREAD WOOD.
12-year-olds Angelo, Naira, Gus, Colette, and Hallie (better known collectively as Club Loser) are slowly recovering from their victory over the spider monsters created by the Dread Wood High caretakers, Mr and Mrs Latchitt, and destroying their laboratory. The Latchitts have not been seen since but Club Loser suspects this doesn’t mean they have given up – they are determined that their granddaughter, Colette, should be with them and will do whatever it takes to ensure that happens.
Fortunately Club Loser has had something to take their minds off this threat: a few weeks ago people in their school started downloading an app for the game Flinch and it’s become hugely popular. When the tune Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice starts it signals a new round and you have to try and scare other players by making them flinch without touching them. Each person you make flinch earns you a point and there’s a leaderboard setting out the best at the game. It’s widely popular in school, with everyone disappearing into Dread Wood during the rounds to try and win points. Even better, the Finches Green fair will be arriving later in the week and, as per tradition, it will be open exclusively to Dread Wood High pupils on Friday in a school supervised trip.
But during a round of Flinch, Angelo and Naira encounter two people wearing scary clown masks. Hallie and Gus think that they were probably sixth formers playing the game but Angelo isn’t convinced and as the week progresses, the creepiness ramps up until Club Loser is left in no doubt that the Latchitts are back and they have a new, frightening experiment that they’re just dying to unleash …
The second book in Jennifer Killick’s comedy horror quartet for readers aged 9+ is a genuinely creepy read with some sharp lines and good twists. It helps if you have read DREAD WOOD as there are a number of callbacks to it (although I could follow the plot without having done so). I believed in the kids’ omerta about Flinch, while the parasites are suitably disgusting and the Latchitts menacing such that I’d definitely read more in this series.
I picked this up having not read DREAD WOOD and although you can readily follow DREAD WOOD – FEAR GROUND without having read it, I think you’d probably get more from this had you read that book first. Clearly there were things in the Latchitts’ laboratory that play into this and, possibly, future books plus you get the backstory for the relationship between the 5 kids, which helps to inform some of the suspicion that Naira seems to have towards Colette. I would stress that you can follow this book without reading DREAD WOOD, but there are some layers to this series and you get more from those if you’ve followed the series from the start.
I enjoyed the relationship between Angelo, Naira, Gus, Colette and Hallie – there is a friendship there but it’s not an easy one and there are clearly some lingering tensions and conflicts there. Although each character is painted in broad terms – Angelo’s family is struggling financially so he has to step up to look after his little brother Raph, Naira lives near the same estate as Angelo and is completely focused on studying and exams to get out and make something of herself, Hallie has rich parents and an anger management issue while Gus is flamboyant and matter of fact and uses a Stoma following surgery to remove his bowel when he was younger – but they work well on the page. I liked the way that the group does support each other and for me, MVP is Gus who gets a lot of the funniest lines.
In terms of plot, the story hinges around the Flinch app and the way the students are slowly addicted to it. I completely believed this and thought that the way Killick portrayed the collective refusal to talk to grown ups about it to be completely believable and also clever is the way the App ties in with the Latchitts’ plans, which were seriously creepy. The way Killick slowly ratchets up the suspense works well with a number of set pieces within the school and building up to the denouement at the funfair being well executed and all framed with a real sense of menace and threat.
Having not read DREAD WOOD I wasn’t familiar with the Latchitts and although I do find them creepy, there’s also a touch of the cartoon about them, notably through Mrs Latchitt’s speech mannerisms. Again, had I read DREAD WOOD I feel I might have had more of an understanding on why they are so keen for Colette to choose to go with them (I picked up that her mother had fled them some years earlier) but as it stands it didn’t quite ring true for me. On the other hand, I think the way that Killick shows how devoted the Latchitts are to each other was convincing and gives them a sense of humanity that is much needed.
Killick controls the tension with some much needed humour. Some of this comes from the well-meaning Mr Canton, a teacher who cares about the kids but whose attempts to mimic their slang are completely cringe but some of it comes from the dialogue between the main characters and again, Gus is the source of most of these with the little mentions of his family making me chuckle.
All in all I thought this was a really effective horror comedy that readers aged 9+ will thoroughly enjoy and I would definitely check out the rest of the series on the strength of it.