As a dedicated reader of dark things and the Gothic genre, I knew I had to read this novella, written by Juno Dawson and illustrated by Alex T Smith. I devoured it in two greedy helpings.
A brief plot summary: Samuel lives and breathes for his girlfriend Eliza, so when she dies in a car crash in which he was the driver, he can’t contemplate a life without her. Crippled by grief, he starts to investigate the dark, unnatural world of Hoodoo to see if he can bring her back to life again. Samuel soon finds that bringing someone back from the dead is harder than he thought, and not just for obvious reasons. Can he do what is necessary to breathe life into Eliza again?
Review: Juno Dawson has been dubbed the ‘Queen of Teen’ and it is easy to see why in Grave Matter. She ‘gets’ teens – their emotions, desires, beliefs – and portrays their inner turmoils incredibly realistically. Samuel is a hero (I have to be careful how I use that word!) who is easy to sympathise with, who you can’t help rooting for even when his actions make you want to shout out in horror. The fact that he turns to Hoodoo when his father is a priest makes the irony even stronger – he has no time for his father’s religious platitudes and can’t understand his unwavering faith, yet Samuel is ready to believe anything else that could bring his girlfriend back from the dead.
And it’s so easy to understand his desperation. Who wouldn’t want to see their loved one again? However, there’s that small matter of turning to unspeakable deeds to achieve your end goals. I’ve read a fair amount of ghost stories, the Gothic, some horror too, and even I squirmed at some of the details in this book. It doesn’t get much darker than this…
Dawson’s writing eschews ornamentation, which helps make the sensation of dread even more powerful. The entire novella oozes unease, from start to finish, peaking in utter terror in passages near the end. Published by Barrington Stoke, which specialises in fiction for children and young adults who struggle with reading – either through conditions such as dyslexia or through reluctance for whatever reason – Grave Matter stands alongside any other more ‘traditional’ books. It looks fabulous, thanks to the amazing pictures by Alex T Smith – who has morphed from the more cuddly images of his other books such as Claude (the mouse) to the Gothic masterpieces on these pages. The writer, the illustrator and the publisher and the final product – they’re a match made in heaven. Or, considering what the book’s about, perhaps Hell would be more suitable. 😉