Hide and Don’t Seek: And Other Very Scary Stories by Anica Mrose Rissi, illustrated by Carolina Godina. Quill Tree Books, HarperCollins Publishers, 2021. 9780063026957
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? Rissi delivers an impressive array of short horrors, flexing the sort of technical muscles that earned Schwartz’s Scary Stories a permanent place on library shelves. To be sure, many of Rissi’s stories tread well-worn paths: extra windows and secret rooms, possessed children, malicious living dolls, ghost cats . . . In a collection of horror stories for young readers— a collection that may often serve as an introduction to the genre— should we have it any other way? Hide and Don’t Seek is an ambitious survey of horror forms, and attends to the genre’s current state as much as to its history. “Lucky” makes memorable use of the refrain from ubiquitous “Hearse Song”, and, together with the annotated playscript form of “Superstition: The Play”, brings Rissi’s collection up to speed with New Weird and postmodern currents of adult horror. “The Boy and the Crow” turns the genre’s funhouse vanity mirror on white privilege, while calling to mind nothing so much as Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”.
More often than not, Rissi imbues her characters, environs, and events with the quality of having just happened, the perfect tense in that it allows urban legends to persist and proliferate. If the epistolary form of “Truly Delicious” recalls early exponents of supernatural horror (e.g. Machen’s “Great God Pan”, Stoker’s Dracula), its sleepaway-camper protagonist— subsisting on spray cheese, and facing off against a zombifying mosquito-borne epidemic— feels both entirely modern and relatively timeless. The SMS- or chat-exchange of “You’re It” draws on the sort of viral horror that animates everything from Ringu to internet creepypasta; the text-bubble design is universal enough to appear proper to the last decade of chat-client aesthetics, and probably to remain so throughout the decade ahead.
As a rule, Godina’s illustrations accomplish the same feats— and not through lack of detail, but only, by stylistic choices with perennial relevance (to North American audiences, at the least): Godina’s shoes are the canvas high tops that have remained in fashion since the turn of the twentieth century, and her shirts, the cotton tees of like vintage and staying power. When she must render a more precisely dated detail (e.g., the smartphone in the illustration for “You’re It”), it’s accomplished from behind and in the dark, with attention directed to the eerie glow of the backlight, not the precise form of the rectangle— nor, certainly, the graphic interface of the operating system.
In image and text alike, characters display diversity in skin tone and background; family structures include single-mother and single-father households, as well as implicitly lesbian grandmothers Nana and Vovó.
Anything you didn’t like about it? There are some uneven moments here, with poems (often doggerel) often missing the mark, and one or two stories that feel not quite finished: “Only A Dream” leans perhaps a bit too hard into the don’t-show-and-don’t-tell of Lovecraftian horror. The ghoulish closing poem “If” ratchets the gore factor way, way up (“She’ll pry back the top of your skull like the lid / from a can of baked beans, only better— / for inside your head there’s a smart, chewy treat: / It’s like beef mixed with cheese, only wetter”)— up to a level for which squeamish readers may be unprepared by the preceding pages. That said, young gorehounds will delight.
To whom would you recommend this book? For fans of Schwartz and Stine, this is a sure winner.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle schools, public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Juvenile fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Zeb Wimsatt, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, Massachusetts.
Date of review: August 27, 2021