Review by Nancy Holzner
In a small Pennsylvania town, five eighth-graders, friends since childhood, form the Halloween Horror Club. For the five weeks leading up to Halloween, each friend will tell a scary story, followed by a group vote on whose story was best. To set the right atmosphere, they decide to meet in the abandoned Tuttle house, site of three unsolved murders fifteen years earlier. No one ever learned who killed Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle and four-year-old Stacey or what happened to fifteen-year-old Paul, who disappeared the night his family was murdered. Despite the kids’ private misgivings, the spooky old house is the perfect setting for their club until it becomes clear that they’re not alone. Someone is watching them. Someone who gets a little closer, a little bolder each time they meet.
The book’s structure embeds each friend’s story in the larger story of what’s happening in the Tuttle house. These are stories you might hear around a campfire: demonic possession; sisters lost in endless, frozen woods; the ghost of an old woman frightened to death; a vain girl unaware of her parents’ terrifying secret; a haunted road to nowhere and each reveals something of its teller’s personality. Although the stories are fun, each teller’s voice sounds too much like the others’, making it hard at times to distinguish the kids. Of the five friends, two emerge as complex characters: David, who acts tough to cover up his insecurities, and Marlene, the smart, “perfect” girl who neglects herself to care for others. The other three friends never rise above their initial, somewhat stereotypical impressions: Peter, the chubby, glasses-wearing nerd; Erin, the pretty girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty; and Roy, the late bloomer who has a crush on Erin.
With each tale, a sense of menace builds until events explode in an action-packed conclusion. The friends’ courage, smarts, and loyalty are tested as they face the house’s mysterious inhabitant. With just enough violence to sustain a sense of real danger, the climax keeps you guessing until the plot’s final twist.