Review of the Day: Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon
Hide and Seeker
By Daka Hermon
On shelves September 15th
There are many advantages to being a grown-up, and I’d be the first person to admit that. It’s great having the option to do or not do whatever I want (within reason) at any given time. I want chocolate chip cookies for breakfast? It’s a possibility! I want to bingewatch old British sitcoms for hours on end? Nothing could be easier! But adulthood isn’t that soft sweet song kids assume it to be. We have responsibilities we have to attend to. Take my book reviewing, for example. Every year I put aside the children’s books that I want to read (fantasy and ghost stories and general silliness) and end up reading the serious, meaningful, emotionally wrenching stuff 90% of the time instead. Still, on occasion, one of those books I like sneaks through and I devour it in one gulp. I guess I’m not as much of a grown-up as I fear, particularly when it comes to a title like Hide and Seeker. It’s exactly the kind of book 10-year-old me would have gravitated towards. If you have kids looking for outright, down and out, horror horror (the ones who’ve watched Stranger Things but balk at the heft of a Stephen King novel) this little book is an answer to your prayers. Prayers / nightmares.
Welcome home parties are supposed to be joyful affairs, particularly when the guest of honor went missing for a year. But nothing’s how it’s supposed to be at Zee’s party. Justin, Lyric, and Nia were always Zee’s closest friends but something horrible must have happened while he was away. He doesn’t talk about it, but he acts like he’s haunted. To pass the time at his party, the kids play a game of hide and seek . . . and that’s when the trouble starts. Any rules established at the beginning get broken, and that causes the evil Seeker to pull those rule breakers into its nightmare realm where fears become reality. It’s up to Justin to think on his feet, help his friends, and find a way to beat the Seeker at its own game. The only trouble is, he has fears of his own. And now they’re seeking him out.
So let’s just state the obvious right off the bat. One of the reasons I was really drawn to this book is that the cast is something like 90% Black and yet the book is just a fun horror novel. We talk a lot about finding books for kids in this age range that show “Black joy” rather than 24/7 trauma, but what we don’t talk a lot about is finding books that show other kinds of genres. Remember when I mentioned that the books I particularly like to read are fantasies and ghost stories and silly stuff? Well add “horror” to that list, and then explain to me why most of the books I see in these categories feature mostly White casts. We deserve Black horror novels. We deserve scary stuff with characters that skew away from what we’ve already seen a hundred times before. We need diverse books, sure, and needing diverse horror falls right under that umbrella.
I made this big deal at the beginning of this review about how I’m a grown-up but read this book because it’s the kind of thing I would have snapped up as a child. And all that is true, but I have to admit that I had a couple impediments in place while reading this book, and they were all directly linked to my not-a-kid-anymore social status. So I’m a mom, right? And let me state for the record that no one informed me when I got pregnant that it was going to affect my middle grade novel reading. If someone had tapped me on the shoulder and mentioned, “Hey, just so you know, every time you read a book now you’re going to identify with the parents,” I would have still HAD my children but I might have been a little better prepared for the future. So yeah, this book’s a rough deal for adults. A kid comes back from what essentially is a living Hell and all I’m thinking about is his poor mom. I also found what the kids go through when they’re sucked into the Seeker’s game a little too torturous for my tastes. They all end up okay in the end (we won’t inquire about the inevitable PTSD) but that’s small potatoes compared to what comes before. And so I found myself wondering idly if the book was too dark for kids and maybe some of the violence should have been toned down. I still haven’t come to any real conclusions on that matter, so I’m just going to say that it really comes down to the individual child reader. Some kids are going to be all in for this book and some are going to find it too dark. But for those looking for it, this is the real deal. No pussyfooting around.
I think we all know that the book isn’t going to win any major awards, but that’s not really what it’s aiming for anyway. I found the writing and the central storyline around Justin and his dead mom to be really affecting and effective. In fact, in a very short amount of time, Hermon is great at capturing full three-dimensional personalities. You never have a moment where you’d mess two characters up, and she ties their individual fears into their characters beautifully. Overarching themes about financial insecurity are woven into the book with seeming effortlessness. And the way in which the kids outsmart the bad guy works within the context of the story, though I was a bit sad to see so many loose threads. Then again, Ms. Hermon makes a very broad hint at the end that there’s more to this story to come, so maybe we’ll get some closure later on. My only real objection to the book, aside from some questions about the violence, was with the rhymes Zee spouts at the beginning. They’re supposed to mimic the singsong nature of those rhymes kids recite when they’re playing. The trouble is that they come off as a little too cute for the circumstances of the book. A bit too simple. It’s not a big thing, but it took me out of the story for a little while. Undoubtedly, kids won’t have the same problem.
You want to know what one of my favorite novels was as a kid? The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton. Remember that moment where the old man rises out of the ground (and this is after a whole bunch of other scary stuff has happened) and chases our hero through the woods like the devil himself? I loved that book (and that one had a 100% Black cast, as I recall). And while that book is still around, I want to know why I’m still not seeing more books like Hide and Seeker out there. Look, it’s a little rough around the edges and it’s not for the faint of heart, but I think you get a sense of that pretty early in. What’s important to me is that kids get drawn to it, read it, love it, and remember it long into adulthood. It’s a bit like It, a bit like Stranger Things, and a whole lot like nothing but itself. For those jaded thrill seekers, hand ‘em something they’ll actually like. A horror book for the kids of our time.
On shelves September 15th
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Interviews: Read this discussion with author Daka Hermon over at MG Book Village.
Filed under: Best Books, Best Books of 2020, Reviews, Reviews 2020
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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