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Title: Dread Wood

Author: Jennifer Killick

Published: 31st of March 2022 – Farshore

Format: eARC (NetGalley) – 336 pages


Hello Hello! How are you?

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick, organised by Dave and the team at @The_WriteReads and I am so excited to be bringing you a review!

When I first heard about this book, I knew I needed to read it. I love middle grade, and I’m really been getting into some more spooky books lately, so this was right up my alley, and it did not disappoint! It was properly spooky!

Thank you to Dave, the author and the publisher for letting me take part in this tour, it was an honour. And thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

The brand new must-read middle-grade novel from the author of super-spooky Crater Lake. Perfect for 9+ fans of R.L.Stine’s Goosebumps.

It’s basically the worst school detention ever. When classmates (but not mate-mates) Hallie, Angelo, Gustav and Naira are forced to come to school on a SATURDAY, they think things can’t get much worse. But they’re wrong. Things are about to get seriously scary.

What has dragged their teacher underground? Why do the creepy caretakers keep humming the tune to Itsy Bitsy Spider? And what horrors lurk in the shadows, getting stronger and meaner every minute . . .? Cut off from help and in danger each time they touch the ground, the gang’s only hope is to work together. But it’s no coincidence that they’re all there on detention. Someone has been watching and plotting and is out for revenge . . .

MY REVIEW

Trigger warnings: death, animal death, violence, gore, blood, falling down holes, SPIDERS (very big TW!!), revenge.

Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick is a middle-grade horror, and actually the first book in what appears to be a middle-grade horror series, which I’m very excited about continuing after having read this book. It is the kind of book that you can read so fast and still like you’ve been immersed in a world for hours, and it was thankfully not too scary, just the right amount of edge-of-your-seat and “omg what the hell is happening” vibes! I’m so glad I got to read this book because I had a great time and it let me discover this great author, who I’ll definitely be reading more of.

SETTING

This book is set in Dread Wood High School and its grounds on a Saturday detention session for four students who got a bit out of control during a lunch break. I’m sure I’ve already mentioned that I love school settings, and this one was very different with the horror vibes, but it was still so fascinating. I really liked this setting, although I think I imagined it smaller than what the author really had in mind since the plot was so fast-paced and didn’t really leave me time to fully immerse myself in this setting.

I did, however, very much enjoy the way the whole place felt. There was a particular vibe and atmosphere that was really spooky, and you all know I’m a sucker for a great atmosphere in a book. This one had the same kind of vibes as Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, and I kept remembering that book while reading this one. I loved Home Before Dark, so that is definitely a compliment to Dread Wood as it really pulled off the atmosphere nicely.

I found the manor on the property to be quite spooky, although I would have really loved to read more about it, have some more descriptions of it, as most of the plot takes place outside or in other buildings. I read the chapter from the second book in the series which was included at the end of my eARC, and I have a feeling that my desire of knowing more about Dread Wood will be sated quite soon.

CHARACTERS

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the characters in this part as I usually would, because I found that going in blind and just learning about them and what linked them made the plot and the book very engaging. What I will say is that this was definitely a kind of “found family” vibe because the characters kind of hate each other at the start, or at the very least are trying to avoid each other like the plague.

They are chucked into this wild race-against-time plot where everything goes wrong and the impossible happens, and that brings them closer. They all have their demons, their fears, their regrets, their guilt, and I really enjoyed reading about each of their stories because I found it made them very relatable, human and above all, very endearing. I didn’t have a preference when I started reading this book, but now I definitely love them as a whole and through their moniker “Club Loser”.

Angelo, Naira, Gus and Hallie are just great characters. They have their flaws, but in the end, they do what is right, they stick together and they help one another out, which is such a fantastic thing in a book like this. You’ll be happy to hear they did not succumb to the age-old horror trope of “one leaves, dies, the others follow and then die as well” while the person watching or reading is screaming at them to stop and turn back. Well… there was a tiny moment like that, but do not fear, friendship prevails and saves the day!

THEMES

Adolescent struggles: One thing I love to see in middle grade, or even young adult stories are the real-life struggles of teenagers (or pre-teens) as they make their way through life and everything that entails. I don’t mean that I like to SEE them struggle, BUT, I do really appreciate it when it is a realistic portrayal of life and growing up, and not a narrative that is squeaky clean and all rainbows and butterflies. Because let’s be fair, shit happens, doesn’t it? This book really shows that shit does happen, to all of us, and the way these kids deal with it is mature and shows their growth throughout the story. They start out completely different to how they end up at the end, and I love to see that kind of character arc development. They have to go through a lot in this book, and a lot of it is scary and very unpleasant, but we also see them struggle through their emotions, their past, their mistakes, their fears, and I think that makes this book really well-done.

School setting: I really love school settings, and this one was so unique and creepy, and I loved it. Although as I mentioned above, I would really have liked a bit more detail about the building as most of what we see happens on the grounds or in the Dread Wood. I’m looking forward to the second book in this series though, as I hope we will get more of a look inside the manor especially, which seems very creepy and a perfect horror setting!

Learning from their mistakes and making things right: As I mentioned in the first point of this “themes” section, we get to see the group grow and realise where they went wrong in the past and try to fix it. Angelo, Naira, Gus and Hallie open up to one another, come to terms with the fact that they are not perfect and have made mistakes, and the most important of all is that they try to make things right. Even while they are running around for their lives, they learn from mistakes and gather knowledge of their settings and what is pursuing them in order to get out of there in one piece, and it was great to see them grow and develop instead of staying flat or run into danger head-first like so many do in horror stories.

Friendship/found family: This was such a sweet and endearing part of the plot and one that made me smile in the final chapter. I love seeing people from different backgrounds, pasts and experiences come together in a common goal and I love seeing friendships blossom. I especially like seeing new friendships bloom in middle-grade books, and I just adored seeing how this one came about. I’m very much looking forward to finding this rag-tag group again in the second book!

A spooky atmosphere to go with a great new voice in MG horror: And the final point I want to touch on in this review is one of my all-time favourites = ATMOSPHERE! This was done great here. The story was creepy, not scary, which is a really tough balance to get. I think this would creep out anyone, especially kids, but I don’t think it would scare them unless they are sensitive to one of the TWs mentioned above. The school setting was spooky, especially the manor, some of the characters were so creepy it honestly made my skin prickle and the revelation of what’s going on is just spine-tingling. I loved it! It was so well done and I haven’t read a book like this since Home Before Dark, so it was a really great one to pick up.

MY THOUGHTS AND RATING

As you can probably tell from all my rambling, I really, really enjoyed this book. It was the perfect length for the amount of creepy and spookiness, it didn’t ever drag, but it wasn’t too scary or too overdone at all.

The writing style was really solid and I just flew through this book. Jenifer Killick has a great voice and I found the whole story really fluid, original, atmospheric and I especially loved the characters and their friendship that came out of this detention session. I didn’t expect a lot of the plots and the revelations were well done and definitely surprised me as I would have never expected the direction it went. Although I will say it does need a massive “stop here if you are afraid of spiders” trigger warning because they are a big part of the book. That’s probably a bit of a spoiler, but I do think it needs mentioning.

I gave this book 4 stars and overall, I really enjoyed it. It was a great middle-grade horror read that kept me guessing and I just couldn’t put it down until I had gotten to the end as I was genuinely worried about each character once the action really got going.

If you love middle-grade books with that spooky/creepy factor, a fantastic group of teens that come together and learn from their mistakes all while having each other’s backs, a school setting and some very surprising twists, you should definitely pick up this book. But only if you are not afraid of spiders!!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JENNIFER KILLICK

Jennifer Killick is the author of Crater Lake, the Alex Sparrow series, and middle-grade sci-fi adventure Mo, Lottie and the Junkers. She regularly visits schools and festivals, and her books have three times been selected for The Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge. She lives in Uxbridge, in a house full of children, animals and Lego. When she isn’t busy mothering or step-mothering (which isn’t often) she loves to read, write and run, as fast as she can.

Jennifer’s Links: WebsiteTwitterAmazon

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That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

See you soon, stay safe,

Ellie xx

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