cover image Into the Candlelit Room: And Other Strange Tales

Into the Candlelit Room: And Other Strange Tales

Thomas McKean, Tom McKean. Putnam Publishing Group, $17.99 (215pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23359-3

Five first-person supernatural tales by a professional storyteller make up this uneven, occasionally chilling collection. The title story is a classic Faustian set-up: 15-year-old Vlad longs to leave his Polish immigrant family behind and join the Park Avenue jet set. A handsome devil named Bub can make it all happen... in exchange for Vlad's soul. Vlad thwarts the villain through a clever plot twist. The heroine of the next story, however, is not so lucky, nor so virtuous. Her ""college essay"" is one extended joke in which she sells herself as a prospective matriculant, but consistently betrays her evil nature. The three tales that follow, somewhat disorientingly, abandon the Faustian theme. One is a pleasingly romantic ghost story; the next a predictable fortune-teller thriller; the last an evocative and scarily ambiguous narrative about a baby too small to see. The stories do not present a coherent supernatural universe, and many of the narrators are unlikable--selfish, shallow, even cruel. Says Vlad after a day out with the devil, ""I was so happy tonight when I came home and hid my money and tried on my new clothing that I barely thought about how bad Grand[mother] must feel not to have me take her to church two Sundays in a row."" Good for campfire read-alouds, the best of these tales will spook the bravest of horror veterans, and the rest will still provide a shiver or two. Ages 10-14. (Aug.)