A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Anna Dressed in Blood is the start to a horror series by Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns) with a movie in the works produced by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer and starring Maddie Hasson and Cameron Monaghan. With "blood" in the title, you'd be smart to expect lots of it here, along with ghost scares. It's a good fit for mature readers who are avid watchers of scary movies. Otherwise, expect nightmares. Teens known to the main character, Cas, die gruesomely -- three of them in the present, one in a flashback that includes fear of sexual abuse. Two of these teens are found dead, ripped apart with blood everywhere; one is killed by a parent; one is ripped in half by a ghost. The family cat is killed. People unknown to Cas are found killed and partially eaten. Cas' father had also been found dead, partially eaten, 10 years before. Hauntings show gory details of deaths, such as spilled intestines. Cas dispatches other ghosts with a special knife and learns their stories of how they died, usually violently. He suffers many injuries including a concussion, near organ failure, and bruises. While sexual content is just kissing, swearing of all intensities ("damn" to "f--k") is a regular occurrence and there's some heavy teen drinking at a party (though with a designated driver).
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What's the story?
In ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, after dispatching a ghost in North Carolina with a special knife only he can wield, 17-year-old Cas is headed to Canada with his white witch mother to see about another ghost, one nicknamed Anna Dressed in Blood. In order to find her, he enrolls in high school and immediately tracks down the school Queen Bee, a girl named Carmel. Carmel invites Cas to a big outdoor party where he's sure, with enough beer, he'll get the scoop on the local ghost stories. Not only does Cas get the scoop on Anna, he's taken to her dilapidated house with Carmel's jealous ex-boyfriend and two of his jock friends in tow. The ex-boyfriend, both jealous and drunk, makes a fatal mistake. He hits Cas on the head with a piece of wood and drags him inside the haunted house. That's when Anna appears, crazy-mad -- dripping in blood, of course -- and instead of taking Cas as the easy victim in front of her, pulls ex-boyfriend through the window and rips him clean in half. Whoa. That's way more strength in one dead spirit than Cas has ever seen. For once he may need more than his special knife to take on the likes of Anna.
Is it any good?
Reading this gory haunted house/ghost hunter tale full of hip characters and creepy magic, you can't help imagining it as a movie you'd want to watch over and over every Halloween. Or picturing yourself reciting scenes form it aloud by a campfire. Main character Cas has the confident attitude about ghost hunting you'll find in Anthony Lockwood from Jonathan Stroud's fabulous Lockwood & Co. series mixed with the kind of hip vibe you find in the ghost series Shades of London by Maureen Johnson. If you're drawn to either of those series and the occasional slasher film, Anna Dressed in Blood will be a huge thrill.
Author Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns) builds her story so efficiently that readers are hunting ghosts with Cas on page one. She fills in the backstory of Cas' father's death -- doing the same dangerous job, of course -- without every slowing the story down. She also builds on her secondary characters, starting with a few cliches -- Carmel, the Queen Bee -- and then surprises us with their hidden depth. The only thing not as much a surprise as Blake may have hoped: There's something's in the attic. Waiting. The cat knew, so most readers will, too.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the blood and scares in Anna Dressed in Blood. How did you sleep after spending time in Anna's haunted house? Are there parts that scared you more than others? Did it help that the main character wasn't that afraid?
What other horror books have you read before? Will you continue to seek it out books in this genre?
Would you be interested in seeing a movie based on this book? Did you picture it as a movie as you were reading?
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