There are two tasks in the Read Harder Challenge that are specifically about middle grades books (and others that are for a picture book, YA book by a trans author, and YA non-fiction) and works intended for readers on the younger than YA end of the spectrum are basically non-existent on my to read list so I had to do some research to find books to read. By and large, libraries can be relied upon to point you in good directions, so I went hunting for options and Arlington Public Library had a handy-dandy list of books that went under the radar in 2023 (yet another Read Harder Task) broken down into genres.
One of those was middle grade books and as I was on the hunt for two, I went looking for titles I would be interested in. One that jumped out to me immediately was The Carrefour Curse by Dianne K. Salerni, which the author describes as being her homage to Dark Shadows and the Goodreads blurb describes as “The Addams Family meets The Westing Game in this exhilarating mystery about a modern magical dynasty trapped in the ruins of their once-grand, now-crumbling ancestral home.” Count me in, that should do nicely for middle grades horror.
The Carrefour Curse juggles a few different horror tropes for its audience. We follow twelve-year-old Garnet Carrefour as she and her mother are summoned to the family home she has never seen as the patriarch’s health is failing. Her family is full of magic users in each of the earth elements, named for their area of specialization, but the family and house are encircled by death, which often comes in multiples. Garnet learns the family secret: her dying great-grandfather is stealing life power from others, lengthening his own life. But that isn’t the only problem Garnet discovers, unearthing an even deeper curse polluting the family’s magic and making people disappear.
Middle grade horror is an interesting little nook in the literature universe since middle grade works do not include profanity, graphic violence, or sexuality, which tend to show up quite a lot in other horror genres. But they tend to focus on the characters’ friends, family, and immediate surroundings and there’s plenty of horror in interpersonal dynamics, especially once you throw in a magical family who is seemingly cursed. I enjoyed the magic of the Carrefour family and the complexities of how the curse and dangers are layered by Salerni. I think there was probably one or two too many characters to mentally juggle, but this was an enjoyable, while slightly spooky, read.
CBR16 Sweet Book: New. Both middle grades and horror are VERY underrepresented in my reading.