I've been searching everywhere for truly terrifying books for children. I've combed the banned books lists, googled "Unsuitable books for children", "worst children's books", "children's books - dark humour" etc in my quest for a truly horrible children's book. Now you may be wondering why I want a horrible book rather than a nice one - the answer is simple - beyond the fact that I have 100's of nice ones - I have boys. Boys quickly tire of sweet and innocent stories - they love frightening stories and quite frankly the more rules a book breaks the better. This book breaks every rule for children's books - I can't imagine how it ever managed to get past an editors desk - and as much as I oppose literary censorship - I wouldn't place this in a children's library on a bet.
Before I get started I will warn that ths review contains some spoilers. These will be well separated from the rest of the review and clearly marked - so if you do not wish to know how this story ends - stop reading when you reach the spoiler alert. I bought this book as a children's book - although it is labeled as a graphic novel it most certainly is not. As a children's book this will really appeal to some children - and leave other's traumatised. If you want to make sure a relative never speaks to you again - buy this for their little one at Christmas. This has extreme violence and some foul language. If you are even considering buying this for a child - please do read my spoilers as well or at least read this book alone before sharing it with a child.
The cover of this book looks rather lovely and Christmassy, but the title might give you some clue as it's more gruesome contents - "It Ate Billy One Christmas". Looking more closely at the picture - we see rather than St Nick coming down the chimney - there is a rather strange looking beast. The first page also depicts a magical Christmas scene with snow topped roofs and lovely sunset - even a cute little reindeer. This beautiful scene gives the book an image of innocence - of beauty and serenity- but this story is anything but a traditional Christmas story.
It begins with a lonely little girl who is traumatised by a truly evil older brother who makes every waking moment misery. He parents are cold and indifferent, and she lives a life of constant abuse at the hands of her brother, neglect from her parents and cruelty from school bullies. The only thing Lumi has ever really wanted is a puppy - but Billy destroys anything she cares for, breaking her toys, killing her hamster - and he is thought to have killed the neighbours cat as well.
Meanwhile in a deep dark well lives a creature of unspeakable horror, for many years it has fed on the neighbouring children, but then the well was closed off and no longer used, the beast was forced to survive on insects - even a stray cat, growing more and more hungry and desperate. Finally, as Christmas Eve comes, it can bear no more. It emerges from it's lair - looking for food. Creeping and crawling it inches closer to the home of Lumi and Billy. I quite like the way the author builds the suspense as the creature comes closer and closer. It finds the chimney and makes it's way down.
This horrible creature and a small loveless child will come together, and despite the fact that it is horribly ugly, evil and a monster, Lumi will come to love it with the pure innocence of a child, thinking at last she has her long dreamed of puppy. I think it goes without saying that Billy will be eaten - and for once Lumi will be safe and comfortable in her life - but where will the monster stop?
This book is exceptionally well illustrated, beautiful at times and hideous at others. It is presented very much as a child's picture book, but the text is long and there is some bad language. I don't feel particularly comfortable reading some words so I pointed them out as I read an my sons eyes grew wide before he let out a delighted chortle "Ohhhh they aren't supposed to say those words in children's books". This book is rather dark and depressing- but there is something delightful to children in reading about other children behaving badly - and none could be worse than Billy. Seeing Billy get his just desserts - or shall we say becoming just dessert is amusing as well in very sick and twisted sort of way. There is also a very amusing scene when the monster itself is subjected to an unspeakable horror - being dressed in a pink dress and having a tea party.
This book is horrible, sick and twisted, but my children loved it. I realise some people will feel it is wrong to read such a book to a child, but I grew up on a diet of war stories from my Grandfather, the original Grimm's fairy tales and the best of all treats- ghost stories in a darkened house. My children are easily able to distinguish between fictional and real violence - and like many children very much enjoy the old fashioned tales where something is eaten up. Perhaps this dates back to a very primal time when our greatest fears were really hunger - or finding enough to eat and in fact being eaten by another hunting beast.
While some children are easily frightened by stories, others are not, and modern stories are often too tame for many children. Especially, I have found boys often see books and reading as feminine. By stepping so completely outside the realm of acceptable children's literature, Roman Dirge has created a book that feels delightfully wicked to read. This is certainly a book boys will want to read - and in my opinion - anything that gets them reading is a plus. I am quite certain this book would have the most reluctant readers in an average classroom clamoring for more - but I'm also fairly certain any teacher who introduced this to a school classroom would get the sack.
I know this book is marketed as an adults book - I'm not sure if it would even be legal to sell it as children's book. It is clearly a picture book though, and I honestly can not see an adult buying this for themselves. It is, in reality a children's book - just a very twisted one. If you are considering buying this for a child - I do think you should read the rest of the review even though I will completely give away the ending. It is only by knowing how this ends that you can judge if this will be too frightening for your child - or too offensive for you.
After Billy gets eaten, Lumi makes a cardboard copy of him - so her parents never notice he is gone. Lumi is devoted to her monster - which she thinks is a puppy - and loves him so much she will forgive any evil. At first he is a protector, eating school bullies and anyone else bad to Lumi - but his appetite outstrips the number of bad people so he continues to eat and little by little the town is replaced by card board cut outs. At last only Lumi and the monster remain. Thankfully ski season starts and the trains bring car loads of tourists. A good thing too - because Lumi's puppy is hungry. The one thing we felt spoiled this ending is that Lumi is said to petting the monster with a cardboard hand. Has she been eaten too? My son thought this was stupid as who would have made the cardboard cut of her? Overall though he found the book quite amusing. I'm sure other children will be less amused by the idea of a monster creeping down the chimney on Christmas and slaughtering their entire family and then the entire town - possible even the child themself. This book will certainly give some children nightmares.
For children this just a wonderfully horrible book. A book that does everything a child's book should not, that breaks every rule and thus becomes exciting and different. From an adult prospective, one could read a lot more into this. It does accurately portray the complete misery of an unloved child - the horror of a childhood of torment with no one who can or will protect you. The emptiness of parents who are there, but can not look up from the paper to save a desperate child, and pay so little attention a card board cut out can replace their offspring. How many parents today go on blind to the suffering of their children - as empty and ineffectual as a card board cut out The sad thing - this isn't fiction for so many children. So many children do live lives of quiet and yet horrific desperation. Will some of them turn to monsters for defense? Quite likely - just a more human form of monster. They may in time find their protector more frightening then anything they sought protection from, but perhaps I am reading too much into this book. There is also a desperate loneliness as the world is filled with cardboard cut outs and poor Lumi is more and more completely alone - except for her monster of course.
A part of me hoped that Lumi would change the monster. That given pure and innocent love - this evil creature would learn to love as well. But this is not a heartwarming tale of redemption. Love does not triumph. There is no redemption here, nor any hope of it. The monster remains a monster, destroying anyone foolish enough to love it.
And so the moral of this story, at least in my opinion, is :
I was dismayed to find this book on my son's book shelf considering how much I paid for it to be shipped from America before it was available in the UK. But oh well, its available here now. It's written by Roman Dirge and illustrated by Steve Daily. Its RRP is £9.99 but Amazon (at the moment) is selling it for £6.29.
Due to Roman Dirge's fame he can get away with writing a book like this (he has a huge following from his Lenore series). The back cover claims to graphic novel/humour, its set out like a kid's book but rambles too much for a child to follow so not sure what category it belongs in.
It's the story about how Billy terrorises his sister Lumi until one Christmas she finds a monster under the tree and thinks it's a puppy. The 'puppy' eats her brother so she has to make a card board cut out to fool her parents, and gradually on her travels around she has to replace more and more people with these cut outs.
As I mentioned before it rambles a lot which is rather amusing (could see it being annoying if the book was longer but then again reading Pratchett and his huge unrelated notes at the bottom of some pages must have softened me to this). But it's for this reason I doubt many people would enjoy it.
Visually it's got some beautiful quirky pictures throughout - they don't disappoint. You can tell that the artist was either heavily influenced by Dirge or had a brief to paint the pictures in the same style, but they are lovely - disproportionate, dark and spooky.