School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Twelve years ago, a ferocious storm tore through the town of Widowsbury, unleashing evil forces. Now, the residents view any strangers with distrust. And so when Mr. Zoethout arrives in town on the storm's anniversary, it is no surprise that his vending cart full of sweets is ignored by the local children. At Madame Gertrude's School for Girls, Adelaide, Maggie, and Beatrice have their own problems: the new librarian, the first person to ever extend a hand in friendship to them, has disappeared. The headmistress, who leads her other students in ridiculing the outcasts, insists that the girls scared her off. Certainly, Adelaide's lupine sense of hearing and smell raises questions, and Maggie's physical strength is well beyond that of most typical adolescent girls. And Beatrice's ability to commune with dead animals is disconcerting. But the girls, certain that Miss Delia has not left of her own accord, are determined to find her, aided by the son of the cook at the neighboring boys' school. They realize that the sudden appearance of a carousel in the woods has something to do with the evil forces at work and that they must do something before the town is destroyed. Towell has a loyal following of teens and adults with her "Childrin R Skary" website, which features illustrations and short films. Sadly, her attempt to bring the same element of creepiness to a younger audience in text format falls flat. Characters and dialogue are wooden, and the plot grows increasingly convoluted. Students with a taste for dark fantasy are better directed to books by Neil Gaiman or to Elizabeth Cody Kimmel's "Suddenly Supernatural" series (Little, Brown).—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Twelve years ago, the town of Widowsbury endured a 12-day storm that unleashed evil. Since then, the nightmarish town has insisted on conformity and shunned strangers, which makes life miserable for three students at Madame Gertrude's School for Girls: 11-year-old Adelaide resembles a werewolf, wild-haired 12-year-old Maggie is exceptionally strong, and seven-year-old Beatrice befriends the ghosts of rodents. They are ceaselessly taunted and punished, finally finding some refuge in the arrival of a new teacher, Miss Delia. But when Miss Delia and several schoolboys are lured into the woods by a mysterious carousel and disappear, the misfits are devastated by her absence and reluctantly band together to save the "dreadfully cursed" town. Towell's atmospheric first novel is filled with humor and evocative descriptions ("Here the trees reached their naked limbs up and scratched at the dark sky, distortions in the bark making faces paralyzed in anguish"). Readers who share in the girls' outsider status will likely value the story's emotional gravity and emphasis on compassion. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Towell tucks violent tempests, maggoty slime, hideous transformations, nightmares, sudden terrors and like atmosphere-building elements into a rousingly melodramatic literary debut." —Kirkus Reviews
"If a studio hasn't already snapped up the rights to a feature film, they would be fools not to do it." —Edge
"A splendidly odd little tale." —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
In a boarding school there are always outsiders, but in Madame Gertrude's School for Girls in the Pernicious Valley the three outsiders are the newest girls in the school, having arrived after the storm that loosed evil into the village. Adelaide, Maggie, and Beatrice are not friends, but then again, they have no friends. Instead they have oddities. Adelaide hears everything and constantly hides her pointy ears; Maggie has enormous strength and may have thrown someone out the window in her old school; Beatrice has animal spirit friends. All seem to live in the detention room, a moldy library. Miss Delia, the new school librarian, and the candyman, Mr. Zoethout, arrive the same day and soon strange and terrible things are happening in the town. Miss Delia, an almost-friend, disappears and so do several others. A strange carousel appears in the forbidden woods, calling a siren song, and some shadow men haunt the woods and village. The three girls bond with Steffen, the son of the boys' school's cook, and try to solve the problems of the disappearances even as they are hounded by the other girls and staff....and a wailing ghost. The girls and Steffen venture into the belly of evil and finally succeed in rescuing the town. Meanwhile, the reader will learn about the power of friendship and how to be a friend. Reviewer: Elisabeth Greenberg
Delectably horrific doings in a cursed small town make reluctant allies of four bullied children.
The pall of fear and suspicion that hangs over Pernicious Valley in the wake of a magical storm 12 years before ("My grandfather says that's why they cremate people now. 'Cuz of the zombies") is thickening even further as people have begun to mysteriously go missing. At the same time, a hungry little carousel has appeared in the local woods, a seemingly friendly candy man has opened a kiosk in town and a tall, sinister figure with obviously evil intentions has taken to slipping in and out of view. Gradually putting aside their personal miseries, a trio of despised students from dreadful Madame Gertrude's School for Girls—Adelaide, keen of senses and wolfish of features; tough-talking, super strong Maggie; and shy Beatrice, talker to ghosts and daughter of itinerant celebrity morticians—join forces with Steffen, neglected son of a school cook, to winkle out the ugly connections between these goings-on. Creator of a series of Edward Gorey–like animated short films, Towell tucks violent tempests, maggoty slime, hideous transformations, nightmares, sudden terrors and like atmosphere-building elements into a rousingly melodramatic literary debut.
A little talky toward the end, but a tasty chiller-thriller for all fans of macabre twists and Unfortunate Events.(Melodrama. 10-13)