Terry Griggs’ genuinely creepy new YA novel will thrill young readers while giving their parents nightmares.
Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Michael Ende’s Momo, the story follows feisty, independent Nieve, whose parents are freelance weepers (they offer services ranging from hugs and pats on the back to sympathetic murmurs to “copious tears and custom-designed indignation” – all on a sliding scale, of course). Nieve’s family lives in a normal little town just slightly removed from the real.
As the novel opens, Nieve notices that things are becoming decidedly darker in her community. At first it’s little things, like a sudden profusion of spiders spinning webs everywhere, even on her toothbrush. Then come the weeds (vicious, animalistic plants like something out of a Lovecraft story), a substitute teacher handing out candies that look curiously like human eyes, and a pair of mysterious strangers who arrive dragging darkness behind them.
When citizens start to disappear, and those left behind seem to lose their memories, Nieve is drawn into a mystery that sees her venturing out of the darkness swallowing her beloved town and into a sepulchral world beneath the neighbouring city, accompanied by mysterious and possibly not-quite-trustworthy companions.
Nieve possesses a ceaseless flow of dangers and perils, and yet Griggs accomplishes this headlong narrative drive without sacrificing character development or emotional complexity. It’s a tremendously visual and visceral novel, with bodies aplenty (including those of babies) and human beings transformed into various household items (a chair, for example, provides a crucial clue to what’s going on).
Over the course of the novel, Griggs develops a thorough and compelling mythos, one both original and drawn from traditional lore, while also creating a realistic and immersive world. Given that Nieve is the first novel in a projected trilogy, this is crucial. Readers will want, desperately, to return to Nieve’s world, and the sooner, the better.