Small Favors

Delacorte. Jul. 2021. 480p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593306741.
Gr 7 Up–Craig’s sophomore novel is a canny “Rumpelstiltskin” retelling set in a pastoral town cut off from the world. Amity Falls has cut a utopian life out of the valley, stringing up a boundary called The Bells on the edge of the forest to keep monsters at bay. When a supply caravan goes missing just before winter, Ellerie’s father and twin brother return from their search with terrible news: The monsters of the forest have returned. Soon after, Ellerie meets a handsome boy with no name and a handful of lucky talismans, who seems to know more than what he’s saying. As autumn turns into a claustrophobic, supply-scarce winter, strange occurrences begin cropping up around town. Someone or something is granting wishes for the townspeople in exchange for small favors and raises the question: What if the monsters of the forest aren’t all what they seem? With a strong narrative voice and a lush setting, the pervasive tension ultimately falters when the story gives way to a jarring level of violence as the town turns feral. While the author has a deft hand with themes and motifs throughout the story, some questionable choices crop up, e.g., the only dark-skinned characters mentioned are a literal monster and an Elder who turns irrationally, violently angry. Other characters are described as having pale skin.
VERDICT Craig twists a slow-burn fairy tale around classic horror tropes that ultimately land on satisfying, though predictable, beats. A strictly supplementary purchase.

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