The Stone Child
by Dan Poblocki
Random House, 2010
Ages 8-12 Years
As the curtain opens, Eddie and his family move to a small town in northwestern Massachusetts called Gatesweed after his mom discovers its rustic charm, an ideal setting for writing her stories. By an odd coincidence, (not really; there’s evil afoot,) the town happens to be home of his favorite author, Nathaniel Olmstead, who writes books with titles that sound notoriously like John Bellairs novels.
The first thing Eddie hears about is the Olmstead Curse. (Cue: thunder and ominous fog.) The author disappeared under mysterious circumstances a few years before, and Townsfolk seem edgy and tight lipped whenever Olmstead is mentioned.
Eddie is given a coded book puchased by his mom at a flea market, and while searching for a clue to decipher it, lands a friend in Harris, whose mother owns the small town, cloaked-in-mist bookshop called The Enigmatic Manuscrpt. When he visits the store, vandalism has befallen the park across the way. The words “The Woman is Watching” is painted on the pedestal of a bust of Dexter August, (himself unimportant in his historic shrouded-ness but for his name’s ring of a favorite Lovecraftian mainstay, part of the flavor of Poblocki’s writing.)
When Harris takes Eddie to see the mysterious statue of a child in the woods beyond the Olmstead house, where they were definitely not supposed to be exploring, they are chased away by a pack of bloodthirsty hounds from beneath the dark waters of a nearby lake. And that was only their first encounter with horrible monsters that seem to come straight from the pages of Olmstead’s books.
”Do we have to walk backward all the way back home?” she asked. “My dad’ll kill me if I bring home several dozen giant shadowy demons.”
Soon Eddie meets the class freak at school, a goth-type named Maggie who follows them to the house the next time they go. She hitches along on the mystery when the boys discover Olmstead’s original manuscripts secreted away behind a hidden passage in the basement. There is one hand-written book there that has never been published before… and that hints at the existence of a figure from biblical history that is trying to cross into this world: Lilith herself, and she’ll be bringing a host of abominations with her.
The dark goddess extends her grasp across the divide between the worlds and begins to threaten the boys. They recall the words, “The woman is watching.” Can the three investigators unlock the puzzle behind the lost manuscript before She crosses over and lays waste to the world?
Just as we think the mystery of the manuscript, the statue, and the key has been solved and the book completely translated from its cryptic code, Eddie’s mom gives a reading of her latest novel… and horrifyingly begins reciting the chapters of Olmstead’s unpublished novel word-for-word. It is an incantation that –when her book is finished– will act as a spell to open the way for Lilith and her savage horde.
Poblocki is great with hidden symbols, puzzles and cyphers, as we’ve seen in his Mysterious Four series. In The Stone Child he calls upon the magic inherent in some ancient Hebrew letters and challenges his characters with a code that requires them to locate the key.
Though more thriller than horror, this book has many scary moments. I felt fulfilled when the town librarian witnessed a creature of the dark try to kill the boys. Too often an author of spooky tales will isolate children’s nightmarish experiences from the adult, rational world– making it all the more terrifying when the supernatural comes crashing into the real, sunlit world.
The myth of the Garden of Eden, the theory of the Big Bang, every single “once upon a time” you ever heard when your parents tucked you into bed– these help us imagine our own personal world. And wasn’t that the job of the writer? To create worlds? To invent myths?
An easy read and an engaging story with a taste of adventure, Poblocki’s first book is a thrilling, chilling taste of the frightful dark thrillers yet to come from this author.