July 17, 2012

Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare

CIRQUE DU FREAK: A LIVING NIGHTMARE (Book 1) by Darren Shan (Little Brown, 2002)
GENRE: Horror
HONORS: Sheffield Children's Book Award (Second Prize); WHSmith Children's Book Of The Year (shortlisted); RA-CBC Children's Choice Award

REVIEW: In this fictional autobiography, Darren Shan relates to the reader how he, an average, soccer-playing kid with a fascination for spiders, ends up becoming a vampire's apprentice. Though a bit overly descriptive at times (the account of the freak show goes through each act methodically, somewhat dulling the pace), Shan keeps the overall plot moving at a brisk, suspenseful pace. As the tension mounts and the stakes become higher (pardon the pun), the reader is drawn into the story by the inevitable consequences of Darrens actions. Darker, with more emotional repercussions than many horror series for tweens, Cirque Du Freak makes you feel for Darren, even as you hope you would make different choices than he does.

OPINION: Shan manages to balance horror and humor very successfully. Darren is an appealing protagonist, flawed but like-able and easy to relate to. The story is fast-paced and always evolving - just when one locus of horror resolves, another emerges to take its place. The fact that Darran's actions reap some fairly unappealing and graphic consequences at the end is an added bonus, grounding the series in  a pleasing, unapologetic darkness.

IDEAS: A great read-a-like for fans of R.L. Stine or tweens ready to graduate from the Stine's Goosebumps series. Also a fun title to highlight around Halloween, and a good suggestion for fans of vampire fiction, especially boys.

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