Sunday, November 5, 2017

Book Review: The Screaming Staircase

Title: The Screaming Staircase
Series: Lockwood & Co
Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, horror
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 stars for this super fun, creepy and fast-paced book. This may say it's a Middle Grade book, and certainly it could be given to a kid 9 and up, but don't be deceived by that everyone will enjoy Lockwood & Co! 

Why only 4.5 stars?
The reason for my deduction of 0.5 stars is perhaps going to sound petty to some; but it's a real pet peeve of mine. Jonathan Stroud is British and The Screaming Staircase is set in London. So can someone explain to me why, in the copy I read, the temperatures are in Fahrenheit?! Almost everywhere in the world (including here in Canada) we use Celsius. No child in the UK would use Fahrenheit. I am assuming, much like changes made to Harry Potter, that the publisher decided to change the Celsius to Fahrenheit to market to children in the USA. Now, you're thinking to yourself, but Mel how many times can they possibly mention the temperature? A lot!! As one of the main indicators of 'visitors' (aka ghosts or spirits) is that the temperature drops it is mentioned a few dozen times. 
Now I realize this is clearly not Stroud's choice. However, instead of changing the scale used what about putting a conversion chart at the beginning or end of the book. Maybe we can teach the USA children about Celsius instead of forcing the rest of the world to manage the metric used by one country. This is a classic example of publishing houses catering to the USA and stuffing everyone else into that category (especially us Canadians). Okay, rant over. 

So many questions!
Overall Stroud is a genius. He takes a simple idea, the world is plagued by visitors that are a menace and can kill people with ghost touch, and creates an intricate world around it. Only children can see the manifestations and so they are the best equipped to fight these menaces and clear places of the visitors. Obviously this comes with it's own set of morale questions. What age is too young to start? When things go wrong is the child responsible? Is it worth the sacrifice of youth to battle the visitors? 
These questions are more are handled exquisitely in The Screaming Staircase. I'm so sad it's such a quick read as I didn't want to leave the world yet. I'll be ordering the next couple in this series immediately! I'm also going to be purchasing this series for my 13-year-old nephew for the holidays as I know he will love the creepiness. What kid doesn't want to read about a 'red room' which fills with ghost plasma that looks like blood, a staircase where the screaming incapacities you, a ghost so unhappy she kills current residents of the home? And these are only examples of some of the things are three lead characters encounter. 

Bring on the sarcasm and fun!
The other thing that is amazing about Stroud is that he is able to write kids books that are sarcastic and funny. Alongside all that creepiness and atmosphere our three lead kids are able to poke fun at each other and fight over the silliest things (who gets the last cookie); just like normal children do. Without a doubt the humour in The Screaming Staircase is critical to breaking some of the tension and scariness that comes along with the story itself. 

Am I a child or an adult?
Most of all what I love is Stroud's handling of the conflicts and emotions that come from children playing at being adults. As the eldest child with two younger siblings in my family (one of whom has Type 1 diabetes) I remember a lot of moments as a kid where I felt I had to pretend to be more adult than I was. Even when it wasn't, I often felt like it was my responsibility to handle situations. As Lockwood & Co. has no 'adult supervisors' you see them struggle with this paradigm a lot. When can they show weakness? How do they convince adults they are competent and capable? And at what point is it okay to just collapse and let someone else take care of things. 
There are no easy answers to these questions but Stroud does an excellent job of helping readers understand that it's okay to show weakness and to reinforce that we ALL have weaknesses. It's less about what that weakness is and more about how we compensate for it. That by surrounding ourselves with people who we trust and will help us we can be both strong and weak as needed. 

Buy it for everyone!
I think this will be my go-to book/series to buy for anyone over the age of 10 for the next while. I look forward to buying multiple copies for kids (including my nephew)! While there is a lot of substance in this book, it still feels like a break as the language is simple and easy to follow. Do yourself, or those around you a favour and pick this gem up! 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

I enjoy well-written kids books and this sounds like a lot of fun. Although the C/F stuff would have gotten on my nerves as well; I've gotten better at interpreting Fahrenheit temperatures since I've been reading lots of US blogs and books, but it still feels awkward for me.