CBR11Bingo – And So It Begins . . .
Nico isn’t totally beloved in the town of Timbers, after his dad’s environmental lobbying meant the loss of a lot of jobs from Timbers’ lumber industry. Luckily he has his best friends Tyler and Emma to pass the time and dodge the bullies (mostly Logan Nantes, whose dad runs the lumber mill). One way they avoid Logan and his cronies is by spending their time at Still Cove, the cliffside on the edge of town where no one really likes to lurk for long. One day, though, Logan and Nico’s former friend Opal catch them playing with a custom drone Nico made, and Logan sends the drone flying off the cliffside into the fog. When Nico, Tyler, Emma, and the regretful Opal decide to trek down and find it, they discover a rowboat that leads them to a murky island in the middle of the cove. Floating in a pond on the island is an ancient houseboat full of forgotten relics. And in the basement of the houseboat is the DarkDeep.
“The DarkDeep” is a name Emma creates for what they find, a bizarre fathomless whirlpool in a well at the bottom of the boat. When Emma the adventurer dips her toe in, the DarkDeep sucks her in and spits her out on the other side of the pond. It also spits out a giant purple bear – a bear only Emma recognizes as her imaginary childhood friend. The bear quickly snaps out of existence, and soon the others are jumping in the DarkDeep too, to see what they can conjure up. But when the figments from their minds begin to last longer and become more real, Nico and the others get wary. They want to discover the DarkDeep’s secrets. But the more they try to discover, the more the DarkDeep seems to be discovering about them: specifically, about what it is they truly and deeply fear.
I read this as a nominee for the middle grade book award committee I’m on, and it was lots of fun! Occasionally it was even downright spooky (I had to put it down one night after a particularly creepy part on a particularly quiet night). The plot definitely has a Goonies or Stranger Things vibe, and is a very early primer for something like It, as the DarkDeep conjures up less fun than creepy things from the kids’ minds. The DarkDeep as a portal to the imagination feels fresh. What I didn’t love as much were all the pop-culture references, which probably amuse and hook young people, but I find date the book for future readers and take away from any creepy mood the authors otherwise establish. The kids jump into the DarkDeep to make BB-8 and Tinkerbell and other popular characters appear, but the atmosphere was more fun when more generalized creatures like Sasquatch, orcs, and the threat of Still Hollow’s legendary Beast reign.
The book recently published a follow-up, The Beast, which I likely won’t continue with due to the amount of reading I have to do, but I think readers who’ve graduated from Goosebumps but aren’t ready for Fear Street would enjoy this book a lot.