Tuesday, May 11, 2021

REVIEW: Whispering Pines (book) by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

Whispering Pines is Middle Grade horror/mystery. It's the first book in a series - the second book is supposed to come out in September 2021.


Rae's family moves to the town of Whispering Pines for a new start after her father's disappearance. Everyone seems to believe he ran out on them, but Rae knows the truth: he was either abducted by aliens, or the government did something to him when he started indicating that he wanted out of the project he'd been working on for them. Whatever the project was, Rae knows it involved an alien spacecraft. She's determined to keep investigating, even though it cost her friends back at her old home.

Whispering Pines has mysteries of its own, however. The town has a very strict curfew, and her new school has lots of weird rules, like "no chalk allowed," "no wearing garlic," and "no wearing red, not even red lipstick." And everyone seems to think it's normal for kids to go missing every year. Still, this year the number of missing kids is higher than usual and, disturbingly, the ones that have turned up again have all had their eyes taken.

When Rae's first friend at Whispering Pines disappears, she decides to start investigating and eventually teams up with Caden Price, the local "weird kid" whose mother runs a ghost-hunting business. Caden has his own secrets. He can sense people's emotions. He's also the only one who knows what really happened to his older brother Aiden, who disappeared a while back...because he's responsible for what happened to Aiden.

The illustrated cover is what drew me to this. It's gorgeous and moody, and now that I've read the book, I can tell that both Rae and Caden's secrets have been worked into it. Nice.

The weirdness of Whispering Pines hooked me pretty quickly - it made me think of the TV series Eureka, only the weirdness was supernatural rather than scientific. Although gradually it became clear that this was more of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Hellmouth situation - the locals had some awareness of what was going on in their town but never talked about it and generally pretended things were normal.

Unfortunately, it felt like there was a little too much packed into this: Caden's ghost-hunting family, the portal to another dimension, Caden's ability, Rae's father's alien spaceship project, whatever was going on with Green On! (a mysterious energy company), etc. It probably didn't help that I initially approached this as more of a standalone, but it really is the first book in a series - the only thing that's resolved by the end is the mystery of the eye-snatcher.

The family aspects were extremely frustrating. It seemed like everyone was making secret plans but not talking to anyone else in their family, even as they were all hurting due to their respective traumas. And it wasn't like the hurt was invisible - it made me angry when I found out just how much one parent knew about what was going on with their kid...and then they just did nothing.

I haven't decided yet whether I'll continue on with this.

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