Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Candlewick Press for an advanced copy of this title for the purposes of review:
When it comes to recent fare from middle-grade literature, they generally have been following a very stream-lined approach of placing clichés and familiarity over the boldness that other, upper-level genres could provide. However, Kevin Brooks’ latest release, Born Scared, is anything but conventional. Starring a lead protagonist named Elliot who is afraid of almost everything in sight, the title features themes and situations that seemed to be restricted to young adult and even fully-fledged adult literature. These themes are scattered handily throughout the book’s evenly placed story, despite a lackluster finale that ultimately compromises what the previous moments in the story had accomplished. Nonetheless, Born Scared is a daunting and personal outlook into the psychological implications of what it means to be human that handles its dense themes with ease even if there are rough edges to be discovered.
As mentioned in the brief synopsis, Born Scared depicts the protagonist, Elliot, a young boy who has a heartbreaking condition as to where fear controls nearly everything in his life. After several incidents involving psychologists, he is finally prescribed medication that is effective in calming him. But on a snowy night and when he is running low on medication, his fear, the beast trapped inside of him, finally begins to take control. From the very start, it’s ultimately clear how mature the storytelling is. I was shocked by the depth Brooks takes when exploring the theme of constantly being scared. It’s a thrilling and daunting experience and one that is heightened by the character of Elliot himself. By the book being told in first person, it feels as if the reader is truly placed into Elliot’s head. As a result, when the scene turns icily tense, that same emotion is carried onto the reader, an effective achievement that is seen rarely in middle-grade literature. This achievement is also bolstered by the smart and quick writing style of Brooks. There is rarely a sentence or even phrase that feels off-putting or unnecessary. Each scene feels rightly integrated into the story and contributes to the greater emotion of terror and fear, making the moderate length of the book feel expertly paced.
When it comes to issues with the book, it’s collectively clear that Brooks wasn’t entirely sure on how to handle the conclusion of the story, a worthy question given that this story is so unique to a genre that is usually considered childish. While the end result is still daunting and bold in its plot design, I wish that Brooks had taken the themes of the conclusion even further. It feels watered down as to where the potential emotional resonance of the final sequences are terminated almost immediately, leading to a rather drab final act. It certainly doesn’t help the book’s case that its ending is both abrupt and diluted as well.
As a collective whole, Born Scared is a riveting and in-depth portrayal of a theme that is rarely explored in the middle-grade genre. For that feat alone is Born Scared a worthy read, but it also goes far beyond with its intricate and tightly written structure that allows for a balanced experience. It may become diluted and confused in its thematic structure during its final sequences, but this issue never fully compromises the literary genius in some of the earlier moments. Born Scared positions itself as more than just another installment in a clichéd genre; it identifies itself as a work that is worthy for all genres.
Score: 8.1 out of 10
From the moment of his birth, Elliot’s life has been governed by fear of almost everything, even of his own fear — a beast that holds him prisoner in his room. The beast is kept at bay, though not eliminated, with a daily regimen of pills. But on Christmas Eve, a mix-up at the pharmacy threatens to unleash the beast full force, and his mother must venture out in a raging snowstorm to a store that should be only minutes away. Hours later, when she still hasn’t returned, Elliot sees no choice but to push through his terror, leave the house, and hunt for her. What happens if the last of his medication wears off and the beast starts scratching at the doors of his mind? Everyone has a breaking point — will Elliot come to his? With plot twists and turns that keep readers on the edge of their seats, multi-award-winning author Kevin Brooks offers a high-suspense exploration of fear and what it means to truly be afraid.
BORN SCARED is available now and can be purchased from Amazon here.