Tuesday, October 5, 2021

ARC Review: The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink (7/20/21)

Thirteen-year-old Esther Gold loves Halloween, and she can't believe her parents want her to stop trick-or-treating, even if she is almost in high school. Determined not to let go of her childhood traditions, Esther tells her parents she is going to the movies with her best friend Agustín, and then drags him out into the street to trick-or-treat instead. After visiting just a few houses on their planned route, however, Esther and Agustín discover that something unusual is happening in their neighborhood. There are no kids out, and all of the adults have fallen into such a deep sleep they can't be roused. The only other people who seem unaffected by this strangeness are Esther's arch-enemy, Sasha, and the dentist who gives out toothbrushes instead of candy. As this unlikely quartet begins to investigate the odd things they have observed around town, they uncover a magical plot by the queen of Halloween herself which will endanger everyone they love if they can't destroy her power. 

This was a really fun Halloween story. The plot is a little muddled and a little simplistic at times, but Esther and her friends have so much heart and sweetness to them that the story is irresistible and impossible to put down. The atmosphere of the whole novel is very festive and includes all the cozy seasonal details that readers want in a holiday-themed read, but there is also enough sinister spookiness to build up a bit of spine-tingling suspense. Aside from Halloween, the story also focuses on growing up: what that means, how to face it, and when to let go of childish things and move onto the next phase of life. For Esther, this means not just letting go of trick-or-treating, but also coming to terms with the changes in some of her relationships, particularly with Agustín, who is beginning to appear to her as more than just a friend.

This story also addresses issues of prejudice, both in the real world, as Esther faces occasional anti-Semitism and Sasha deals with racism toward her Korean culture, and in the fantasy world, where black cats have been scapegoated and given a bad name. These elements mostly felt like an organic part of the story, especially since Sasha is one of the people who has made anti-Semitic comments to Esther in the past, and I appreciated that the author used them in the story and didn't just include them for the sake of preaching. I also liked that Esther was able to forgive Sasha after she changed her point of view. This is a healthy way to handle the situation, and I appreciated that the author presented it as such. 

The Halloween Moon is more of a fantasy novel with Halloween elements than a true scary story, but for me, that is a huge plus. I would have happily read this as a kid despite not being very fond of spooky things, and if my kids were a bit older and there wasn't talk of eighth graders kissing, I'd probably read it aloud to them too. I listened to a few chapters on audio, and it works well in that format. Some of the male narrator's female voices were a bit shrill and stereotypical, but for the most part, his voice suited the story quite well.

I received a physical ARC of The Halloween Moon from Quill Tree Books in exchange for an honest review.

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