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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that on the ever-escalating horror scale, this falls fairly low in terms of violence and mayhem. Much of the disturbing action takes place in a "fears cape" where nightmares seem to come true. While it's certainly gross and creepy -- axe-wielding psycho clowns, children with their tongues cut off -- the dream quality takes the edge off the threat of danger to the protagonists. The children's mother deserted the family and most of the psychological aspects play on this abandonment. One teen (possessed) boy dies.
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What's the story?
When horror aficionado Reggie picks up a hand-written journal called The Devouring at her job, she starts reading it to her 8-year-old brother Henry as a bedtime story. Demons called the Vours prey on fear, taking over people's bodies on the winter solstice. As a chant explains, "When dark creeps in and eats the light, bury your fears on Sorry Night. For in the winter's blackest hours, comes the feasting of the Vours. No one can see it, the life they stole, your body's here but not your soul." As Henry's behavior turns darker and darker, Reggie and her best friend Aaron wonder if the Vours have possessed him. Can they fight this malevolent presence without destroying her brother in the process? The ending, which suggests a larger evil at play, sets up a sequel.
Is it any good?
With the namedropping of Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe in THE DEVOURING, readers hardly need to check the author profile to know Holt is a horror fan himself. With quick, smooth pacing and engaging teen protagonists, Holt fits in a dirty dozen of horror standbys, including an ominous funhouse hall of mirrors, giant spiders, corpses sealed behind walls, and an evil surgeon with a drill. The Vours are pretty creepy, even if the plot occasionally feels like horror redux (knowing comments like "Who knew my deepest fears were so damn cliché?" don't really excuse yet another psycho clown).
Reggie's best (and seemingly only) friend, Aaron, plays a substantial role, upping the interest quotient for male readers. Teens may feel a bit tricked that even a horror novel comes with a pat message ("You battled your worst fears"). Still, for a read on a dark winter's night, this should offer some frights without excessive gore or sex.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what scares them and how they could (or have) overcome that fear.
Families can also discuss what make something scary -- why is a spider or clown spooky to one person but not to another?
What do movies, books, and other popular media do to encourage or discourage fears?