Genre: Children’s, Horror
Publishing Info: 2017 by Andersen Press Limited
Back Cover Summary:
There was a sudden blur of movement as the scarecrow lifted a hand, grabbed the bird and pulled it towards his own face. There was a brief commotion of feathers, a splash of something bright red and the bird was gone.
Jack and his dad are on the run. Dad has discovered important information about the illegal dealings of some powerful people, and they want to find him.
Realising they’re in danger, the runaways hide out in a remote lodge in the Scottish highlands, next to which stands a scarecrow. When Jack sees something impossible, he starts to realise that they are not alone. This thing is alive – and it is hungry and dangerous. But how much is real, and how much is in Jack’s mind?
I am in two minds about Scarecrow, with the thriller and psychological elements feeling much stronger than the horror parts. Alas, the book isn’t what I thought it would be, with a slow middle section dragging the narrative down somewhat.
I bought this at the Young Adult Literature Convention in London this summer, being attracted by the effective front cover that conveyed an image of true horror. However, I would describe this novel less as a children’s horror book than a thriller with horror elements. The titular scarecrow is certainly a menacing figure in the early stages of the novel, but this goes upon interacting with the main character. He is revealed to be more of a protector with a hunger for live animals than a monster that will haunt the protagonist and subsequently forms a friendship with him. Whilst I do understand the author’s reasoning for doing so, preferring to highlight other forms of evil, the middle section suffers from a real lack of action or urgency and lacks the horror that I was hoping for from this, even if the target audience is younger than my own.
The other form of evil is that of humanity and human greed. I think that this is a much more successful element than the use of the scarecrow because readers, children and adult alike, will be able to recognise this in everyday society from the most influential. Jack’s Dad has been forced out of the city after whistleblowing on the dodgy dealings of those who work in his bank – including some powerful people. This adds to the feeling of paranoia the characters feel in this small village and comes to a head in an exciting climax where the protagonists are trapped in the cottage with those who want to hurt them. If I had one tiny issue, it was that the hitmen are represented a bit too extreme, threatening to hurt children with a belt and not showing more than one dimension. The characterization of the turncoat who outed Jack’s father as the whistleblower was far more interesting to read, presenting several conflicting feelings at once.
Another element that the book does highlight is the mental health of young people. Jack is on medication at the start of the novel but deliberately doesn’t take it when he arrives in the remote Scottish village. The feeling of shame he has, particularly when his Dad explains this fact to strangers, is quite understandable and it is an element that I haven’t come across very often in literature for young people. I feel that presenting it is a good way to break the taboo, especially when it is stated in the way it is. I’m not sure that using the mental health of the protagonist to send readers a red herring that Jack has been thinking up the living scarecrow was as clever an idea as it appeared, so I was glad that this was quickly disproved. As a protagonist, Jack feels like a real person, as in the way he processes and presents so many questions to readers that can’t reply, and in the prominence of anger and other negative emotions just as much as his mental strength. I feel that it is him, rather than the scarecrow, who is the most realized character in the novel.
Scarecrow is a decent enough read if one was to consider it is a thriller, if a bit light on characterisation, but is a smudged attempt at horror, if that is what the author was going for. The scarecrow fails to really take off and a slow middle section drags the plot down somewhat, with a better final third, in which the author studies human evil and the lengths people will go to in order to save their skins, feeling like more of a success.
Star Rating: ⭐⭐½