The Creeping: A YA horror novel

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Creeping by Alexandra SirowyThe Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

What’s more frightening: a monster lurking in the shadows, kidnapping children for its dark and nefarious purposes — or a human being who does the same, terrible thing? Are there really supernatural creatures lurking at the edge of human existence, or do we just tell ourselves stories to gloss over how awful our species can be? Even worse, what if both scenarios are true? Alexandra Sirowy explores these questions in her Young Adult debut novel, The Creeping, and I would guess that what readers think about her answers will tell you a lot about themselves and the things they fear.

When Jeanie Talcott and Stella Cambren were six years old, they went into the forest surrounding their sleepy Minnesota town to pick strawberries. Only Stella came out, wild-eyed and rambling about monsters in the woods, covered in Jeanie’s blood. Jeanie’s body was never found, and eleven years later, Stella can’t remember anything about that day. Now another little girl’s body has been found, and what should be the perfect lakeside summer before Stella’s senior year of high school is filled with terror and half-remembered flashes of Jeanie’s tear- and blood-stained face. Stella becomes convinced that if she can clearly recall Jeanie’s murder, it will shed light on this newest murder as well as bring closure to her own life. With the help of her friends Zoey and Sam, she discovers that the town of Savage has a history of violence including clandestine animal sacrifice and a long string of abductions and murders — always involving little redheaded girls. Is it human depravity, or is there truth to local folktales about a vicious supernatural presence which attacks children as revenge for the Chippewa tribe that was wiped out by Norse settlers?

Sirowy’s teenaged characters behave in credible ways, even when they’re making terrible decisions either under pressure or in their everyday lives. Zoey’s single-minded focus on popularity skirts the border of caricature as the novel begins, but Stella’s own gradual transformation from hanger-on to independent entity reveals a surprising depth to both of their characters. The most steadfast character is Sam, who is a genuinely nice guy (unlike the meatheads in Zoey and Stella’s social circle) and provides a necessary level of support for Stella. At the periphery of The Creeping’s narrative are Caleb and Daniel — Zoey and Jeanie’s older brothers, respectively — each with their own backgrounds and motives for helping Stella seek out the truth behind the connections between Jeanie’s disappearance and all those other little girls who have gone missing or been found murdered and mutilated. The adult characters, however, receive much less page time than some of them ought to (Detective Shane, in particular) considering how crucial the police investigation of Jeanie’s and the Jane Doe’s disappearances are to Stella’s recovery of her memories. It’s in this regard that the novel behaves in a predictably Young Adult fashion: clueless adults are on the periphery of the action and many teenagers are left to their own devices, practically raising themselves because their parents are too busy with work or other concerns. It clears the way for Stella to spend time alone with Sam or wander out of the house at all hours of the day (or night), but I would have been more interested in watching Stella come up with creative ways to investigate Savage’s past while evading the active presence of her father. Luckily, the majority of The Creeping reads like a thriller which is accessible to all age groups, and avoids many other common pitfalls of YA novels.

Familiarity with the woods and lakes of Minnesota is not required for the reader’s enjoyment of The Creeping; Sirowy’s prose is atmospheric, creating an oppressive sense that the forest and its dangers are drawing closer as Stella’s memories clarify. Sirowy’s teenaged characters sound like teenagers, both in dialogue and Stella’s narration, which helps maintain a sense of realism among the supernatural occurrences. Sirowy writes with an eye for the sensory, using details like the texture of meatballs or the frigid temperature of a lake to fully ground her characters in the world they inhabit. As a result, when something happens which cannot be rationally explained, it’s all the more disorienting and unsettling for Stella and the reader alike.

The story is well-paced, propelling the reader through the twists and turns of the plot without seeming like Sirowy is rushing to the Big Reveal. I read the book in a single sitting, unwilling to put it down for more than a few minutes before diving back in. Stella’s voice is compelling, the mystery of the missing girls is well-crafted, and I was absolutely satisfied with the conclusion. I can comfortably recommend The Creeping, and I will wait for Sirowy’s next novel with great anticipation.

Publication date: August 18, 2015. Romance, friendship, and dark, bone-chilling fear fill the pages of this summertime thriller in the spirit of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Twelve years ago Stella and Jeanie vanished while picking strawberries. Stella returned minutes later, with no memory of what happened. Jeanie was never seen or heard from again. Now Stella is seventeen, and she’s over it. She’s the lucky one who survived, and sure, the case is still cloaked in mystery—and it’s her small town’s ugly legacy—but Stella is focused on the coming summer. She’s got a great best friend, a hookup with an irresistibly crooked smile, and two months of beach days stretching out before her. Then along comes a corpse, a little girl who washes up in an ancient cemetery after a mudslide, and who has red hair just like Jeanie did. Suddenly memories of that haunting day begin to return, and when Stella discovers that other red-headed girls have gone missing as well, she begins to suspect that something sinister is at work. And before the summer ends, Stella will learn the hard way that if you hunt for monsters, you will find them.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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2 comments

  1. It’s always exciting to be introduced to new authors, don’t you think?

    • Especially one who includes so many details without bringing the plot to a halt. :) Sirowy’s planning to have another book out next year, and you can bet I’ll be reading it.

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