The Gathering is the first book in a new series called Shadow House. This is a horror/thriller series aimed at middle graders. I'm not a huge reader of horror but this felt like a nice stepping stone between the youthful Goosebumps series and more mature horror like the works of King, Hill, Koontz or others. The story would likely be too creepy for younger readers but I'm sure some die-hard horror readers would call it tame. To me, it felt like a good balance for younger readers and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody under age ~12. Unlike "mature" horror books, this book isn't filled with profanity, sex, gore or other overly graphic shock thrills. Frankly, I was relieved that the author didn't try to push the teenage envelope into those areas and rather presents a very spooky horror book that's suitable for a younger audience.
The book starts out with an interesting setup. We are introduced one at a time to 5 very different children/tweens. Each character is in a unique situation that gives them distinct motivations in their life. Mysteriously, each of them receives an invitation of some sort to visit a home/estate/school/etc. with promises that are suited to their unique characteristics. For example, the orphan girl Poppy is drawn in by the prospect of a distant relative wanting to bring her into the family. Music virtuoso Marcus thinks he is going to a special music school. Each character finds out about the "Shadow House" in different ways and they each make their way there.
Once they arrive, the house seems abandoned and the kids start looking around. Before long, evidence of some supernatural force is discovered and the kids not only find that they cannot leave the house but there are beings in the house that want to hunt them down, presumably to kill them. As a parent, I found it a little bit of a stretch that these 5 young kids traveled across the country to a mysterious place they barely knew anything about...but I think that's the wary parent in me. Aside from their impulsive journey to the house, I felt like the kids' actions, language and behaviors felt very believable and realistic for the situation.
The plot builds nicely and exposes the reader to hints and teases of mysteries to come while keeping many things hidden in shadow. As the story progresses I found a nice balance between quiet, creepy suspense and adrenaline pumping action. There are moments of violence due to the situation but as mentioned above there wasn't anything overly graphic or gory. There were moments where I kept thinking back to the 2006 movie Monster House. In some ways the comparison is apt, for example the way the house seems to transform and react to the kids' actions. But as the story continued I found the book to take on its own life and be a story unto itself rather than a clone of previous ideas. I was able to guess/predict some of the revelations but I don't think that's due to simplistic or duplicated plot but rather due to good writing and foreshadowing and keeping the story at a good level for younger readers.
For those looking for even more immersion, Scholastic has released a free mobile app for Android and iOS. The app not only includes a brief book trailer and audio/text samples but it also has an interactive story that you can play through. It's set up like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" with small snippets of story followed by a choice for you to make that will take the story down different paths. The story includes audio and visual elements as well. It's not as extensive as another full book but it is a fun addition to the book and gives more of the taste and feel of the story.
Overall I had fun with this book. It's a fun and creepy horror story that I'd feel comfortable handing to young readers. The book is part of a series and it definitely leaves you hanging in the middle of the story, so if you're not one for waiting on cliffhangers, you might want to wait for the other 2 books in the series (which are supposed to both be out within the next year). I enjoyed the writing and am intrigued to find out what happened next.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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