"The Clackity" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

the clackity lora senf poster large

Written by Lora Senf
Illustrated by Alfredo Cáceres
2022, 288 pages, Fiction
Released on 28th June 2022

Review:

Middle Grade and Young Adult horror are currently in a strong position, and Lora Senf’s entertaining debut The Clackity fits perfectly into the ten-to-thirteen age bracket and is a terrific gateway read for kids who do not want to be scared too much just yet. It is also brimming with striking cartoonish black-and-white drawings by Alfredo Cáceres, which add atmosphere and nicely breaks up the chapters for younger readers. Getting the balance of chills and threats at the correct level in a Middle-Grade novel is never easy and Lora Senf does an excellent job in delivering an eerie chiller which doubles up as a page-turner. The ten-year-old version of myself would have undoubtedly devoured this in a couple of sittings!

Settings are crucial to the success of Middle-Grade novels and Blight Harbor is a super cool location. We are repeatedly told that the town is “...the seventh-most haunted town in America...” (there is no mention of what the other six are!) and that living with ghosts is routine for most people who inhabit the town. The fact that the supernatural is normalised is presented exceptionally well, helping set the scene nicely for when the main character genuinely comes up against truly unpleasant ghosts; she already has experience of how to survive them. Although ghostly occurrences are frequently mentioned, the opening stages could have done with a few other examples of supernatural occurrences before jumping straight into the main plot to help set the scene of everyday life in Blight Harbor. If The Clackity is to expand into a series, it is crucial that the town becomes a living, breathing character which is as important as the protagonists.

The main character is twelve-year-old (soon to be thirteen) Evie Von Rathe, who lives with her aunt Desdemona, who is a local paranormal expert and has a ‘help’ page in one of the local newspapers. Although Evie is very independent, her aunt keeps her close and does not want her messing around unsupervised with the supernatural. The two have a great relationship and have bonded since the disappearance of Evie’s parents some years earlier and her resulting vulnerabilities only make her more endearing a character. Although I would not call Evie a ‘lonely child’, her adventure is one she undertakes solo, whereas the majority of Middle-Grade adventures are small groups in which the kids support each other, friendships strengths and face the ‘Big Bad’ together. The Clackity lacks this group element and, considering much of the novel is a series of challenges, it might have worked better if Evie had other characters to bounce her ideas off rather than always have to rely upon herself.

Early in the novel, Desdemona investigates a disturbance at the abandoned slaughterhouse at the edge of town and curiosity gets the better of Evie and she follows. After an exorcism style ritual goes wrong, Desdemona disappears (or is taken) into the supernatural realms and Evie has to fight to get her back. In doing so she must enter a world of ghosts, witches, and monsters to play a game with deadly consequences and rescue her trapped aunt. This is where she meets the sneaky and ancient creature known as the ‘Clackity’, who wants to make a deal with Evie in exchange for the ghost of the infamous local mass-murderer John Jeffrey Pope.

Pope’s killing spree was over a century earlier and he used the slaughterhouse to dispose of his victims and is also connected to The Clackity. The otherworldly scenes are vividly described, including hungry witches, penny-eyed ghosts, and a tricky memory thief who Evie has to outwit. Considering Evie is on her own (except for a friendly bird who accompanies her), she shows little fear as she moves through a series of haunted houses, seeking the key to the next location.

The Clackity is an entertaining blend of Coraline crossed with Monster House, with one of its major strengths being the fact that the location is a slightly ‘off’ version of our own. Evie is brave, a fighter and was relatable to child readers for the way she fights against her own anxiety and continues to grieve for the loss of her parents.

Young children will enjoy the almost gothic fairy-tale vibe of The Clackity and the first-person narrative allows readers to empathise with Evie’s predicament. The question of faith and belief is also lightly explored and there is nothing too lurid to have children looking under their beds at night. Could this be the start of a new series? Surely Blight Harbor is too good a setting not to return to.

Grades:

Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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