Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Beasties by William Sleator

book cover of 

The Beasties 

This review was written by: B
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: October 1997
Pages: 208 (paperback version)
Stars: 2.75/5


Colette had already stepped off the wooden platform and was shining the flashlight down the slightly curving dirt tunnel.  Roots crawled and twisted over the walls and floor.  The tunnel was very narrow and had a low ceiling.  Colette had to crouch, and I had to bend almost double when I followed her off the platform into the tunnel, trying not to trip over the roots.  A full-grown adult would have had to crawl.  This place was not built for people.
-The Beasties

Doug and his family are about to be uprooted from their city life to go and live in the middle of nowhere, smack dab in the center of severe country life where neighbors are few and far between.  Doug's father is a botanist who wants to study a special type of fungus that can only be found in a this particular area, and with the woods being cut down by loggers at an alarming pace, he only has a short window of time to accomplish this.  On the other hand, his mother wants to get into painting new things (in this case that's nature).  However, the children are not too hyped up about this new development, especially after what crazy Al told Doug and his little sister, Colette.  Al said that it was of utmost importance that the family refrains from living in an old home and to steer clear of the woods located behind old homes.  That's where the supposed Beasties live...

Doug doesn't take Al too seriously, but once he nears his new home, he notices strange things.  People are moving about in the area, but they have missing limbs.  A person in Al's family also has a missing arm and leg, just like everyone else there.  What's this mean?  Then, as soon as they arrive at their new house, Doug finds out that it is not only old, but it is also placed by the woods.  Soon enough, Colette and her brother find a baseball bat and a book randomly sitting out in the middle of the yard, just waiting for the siblings to pick them up.  Doug's actually a huge baseball player and Colette is an avid reader who believes that she can learn more from books than she can from real live people.  However, these gifts do not bode well with Doug.  Who could have known about their favorite pastimes?  The bat's brand new.  Why were they left there?  Something's obviously not right here.

Soon Doug discovers that the woman who helps to take care of the house and makes meals for them wears a mask.  She says that she hurt her nose in an accident.  Why does everyone have missing body parts?  To make matters worse, Colette wants to go into the woods behind the old house against Doug's protests.  Not wanting his sister to go alone, he follows her into the darkened forest where they find a mysterious trapdoor that leads down into the ground.  Who would have placed that there?

Going down into it, the siblings discover a deep and dark secret.  They just found the home of the dreaded and rumored Beasties...

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE REVEALED WHILE I DISCUSS MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK!

I'll be honest, I have very mixed feelings about The Beasties as you can probably guess by my rating. For me it wasn't quite a three star novel, but at the same time, I felt like it deserved a little more than a two star rating.  So, here we have a 2.75 rating rounded to a three for the sake of displaying stars!  Yep.  I'm indecisive.

I really enjoyed the story and the themes within it.  The reader gets to see how it is extremely important to take care of the environment.  I totally agree with this, but I think that the book had a strange way of trying to justify fighting back for nature.  For one, the Beasties are harmed when the surrounding forest, their home, is being destroyed and cut down piece by piece.  These creatures then contract a disease that messes with their body, making some creatures born without an arm, leg, or any other appendage that you can think of.  The Beasties' queen is  also dying.  She is the only one who can have children, and all of her litters are dying along with her.  This obviously presents a problem for their race.

To compensate for the current deforestation and their lost limbs, Beasties raid logging sites and take humans, cutting off various appendages and attaching them to themselves.  Weird, I know.  It's equally creepy and mortifying.  However, this is really what this story is all about: horror.  Colette immediately goes along with the Beasties and fights for them amongst their ranks, but Doug is torn between turning away from their gruesome ways or choosing to support them.  Which way will he choose?  Well, (HUGE SPOILER HERE) he chooses to go along with the Beasties in the end.  In his mind he sees things as if, while they do take body parts from humans, they only take one or two.  This leaves their victims still able to live and function, unlike the Beasties who have to contend with a dying forest and race.  Okay, so what is with that logic?  I don't understand how he could possibly be okay with the Beasties and defend them!  Aren't the lumber jack guys and the Beasties both in the wrong??!!!  I just...I don't...understanding is not going on here.  My brain does not think like that.

Then we have Colette and her admirable love for reading.  She has a deep passion for literature.  However, her father kept talking about how he couldn't fathom how his own daughter could just sit around with her nose stuck in a book.  He kept telling her to close the book and go out into the woods.  Do something, anything but read.  Hmm...discouraging a child from reading?!  Oh, that was the true horror here.  I wanted to rip this man from the pages so I could give him a lecture on how it's okay to let your child read.  Let them be adamant about it and support them!  Oh, my heart just broke.

The Beasties also didn't sit well with me for one more reason.  In the beginning, I was definitely scared and horrified.  That's why I picked up this book from the YA section at the library after all.  However, after they found the trapdoor leading down to the Beasties' home and explored it, I felt like it lost its fear factor rather fast.  One minute there's YA horror going down and then a little more of a Middle Grade feeling set in for the rest of the novel.  Maybe this was just me.  I lost a tad bit of interest in it.  So, I would recommend this to higher Middle Grade or lower YA readers because there is some violence, but there is also a MG vibe to it.

Overall, it was a nice, quick, and easy read, but I think that the length was what created the problem for me.  I was not convinced at all in Doug's choice or that the Beasties were less in the wrong.  There were some great themes in here, though.  It gives the book a tone of what it means to take a step back and realize what you are doing to the earth.  We have to think of the bigger picture.  So, there was a great message, a nice splash of horror, but problems that kept me from totally enjoying The Beasties.

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