Some of my best memories of childhood are of exploring the woods and wild places around my house during the long summer days of my pre-and-early teen years. My brother and our friends would start roaming as soon as we got up and then were seldom seen before supper. The woods teemed with ninjas, evil sorcerers, dangerous Viet Cong, and desperate urban criminals. These forces of evil needed dealing with and it was up to us to do it: Chuck Norris was simply too busy rescuing POWs to take care of rural Texas at the time. Cullen Bunn’s Crooked Hills perfectly captures the spirit of these halcyon days and then adds some chilling twists.
Charlie Ward (a nice Lovecraftian reference) isn’t looking forward to spending six weeks of his summer vacation in the hick Missouri town of Crooked Hills. Nevertheless, his mother wants to spend more time with her sister after the accidental death of Charlie’s father and Charlie must leave his familiar urban surroundings to visit his rural family. But Crooked Hills starts looking a lot more interesting when Charlie learns that the tiny country hamlet is the most haunted town in America. Soon Charlie, his little brother Alex, their loquacious cousin Marty, and local tomboy Lisa must confront local bullies, ghost hounds, and a child-eating witch as they try to unravel the mystery behind one of the most notorious hauntings of the ghost-infested town.
Crooked Hills combines all the best aspects of classic children’s mystery books with paranormal chills and adventure. Think “The Hardy Boys meet Supernatural“. The characters are well-drawn and sympathetic and the action is fast-paced and fun. Charlie’s voice is spot on, mixing a sense of fear and trepidation with youthful excitement and an old-fashioned “gee whiz” factor. Even more impressive is Bunn’s ability to depict genuinely scary antagonists while still keeping the book readable by a young audience. This book really is the total package.
Reading this book as an adult, I was struck with a sense of nostalgia for my youth. Young readers will find a well-told adventure story with real thrills. And if a great story urges the youngsters to put down their DSs for a while and explore the wild places in their neighborhood, well, that’ll be just fine by me. The woods still teem with bad guys and they aren’t going to take care of themselves.