Title: Long Lankin I Author: Lindsey Barraclough I Publisher: Candlewick Press
In a town paralyzed by fear over the presence of a nightmarish creature, sisters Cora and Mimi learn that Long Lankin may be the least of their problems.
Plot Summary: Set in post-WWII England, two girls (Cora and Mimi) are sent to live with their reclusive great-aunt (Auntie Ida) after their mother suffers a mental collapse. Very soon after arriving, they meet two boys (Roger and Pete) who become their friends and together they stumble upon a mystery surrounding Auntie Ida, the girls' mother and a curse over their entire (Guerdon) bloodline.
Cora and Roger spend the summer researching the history of Guerdon Hall where Auntie Ida lives, an old church and a violent bogey man called the Long Lankin – Cain Lankin – who has used powerful sorcery to unnaturally sustain his life. He has been stealing young Guerdon children who have been cursed for centuries by a witch named Aphra Rushes. The Long Lankin devours their life force in order to maintain his grotesque and evil life and leaves the children's souls to roam the earth waiting for someone to release them from his wicked power. Together Cora and Roger unearth family secrets, get visited by ghosts and eventually, with the help of Auntie Ida, end Cain Lankin's reign of terror over Guerdon Hall and their little village.
Rating: This young adult book has earned a Mature Content rating for extreme horror and occult, powerful suspense, aberrant behaviors, references to suicide, and mildly inappropriate language. It receives four and a half stars for story development.
Review : Unfortunate and perhaps slipshod deficiencies in YALSA's description of Long Lankin aside for a moment… here's the thing. Just because a book is written from a child's perspective, it in no way means that the book must naturally be appropriate for a child to read. This gets us back to the inherent problem of the YA genre because the American Library Association defines Young Adult as literature that is appropriate and appealing for children 12 to 18. YALSA, which is the YA arm of the taxpayer funded ALA, seems to offer its Young Adult stamp of approval for any author that can write with a vocabulary level that is easily understood by the average seventh grader. Long Lankin is not challenging reading in those terms but that hardly qualifies it to be placed on the bookshelf of your local school library.
With this is mind, Long Lankin is no more appropriate for children to read than Carrie by Stephen King is, or The Body by Stephen King is or Children of the Corn by Stephen King is. And I'm using Stephen King as an example because he is a masterful writer of suspense and he writes at about a seventh grade reading level. But would you want your middle school to early high school student reading Misery? Would the ALA give its YA stamp of approval for The Shining? No…or at least I hope they wouldn't. But then again, who knows? So then they shouldn't be recommending Long Lankin to children 12 to 18. As a matter of fact, the book rivals anything by Stephen King in its morbidity and suspense. For this reason, I would have a hard time recommending Long Lankin for anyone under the age of 17.
Of course, once you get past the fact that children ought not be reading Long Lankin, you'll find that it's a pretty good book if you happen to like the horror genre. I think the author succeeds in her objectives which is why Long Lankin receives a four and a half star rating. I would have enjoyed this novel a heck of a lot more if I hadn't been reading it with my "mommy goggles" on.
How does Long Lankin succeed in the horror genre? Let me put it in these terms. There are two kinds of writers in the world. There are those that begin their works with the intention of writing a book and there are those that sit down with the purpose of telling a story. An average reader can usually spot the difference between the two writing styles pretty quickly.
Lindsey Barraclough is a storyteller and she tells a ghost story exceedingly well. Barraclough is mindful to place the reader right beside her characters in the story by offering all the sights and smells and sounds that her characters experience. She never assumes that the reader understands the setting through some kind of literary osmosis. She takes the time to create atmosphere. The reader never feels that Barraclough is padding her book with literary polyfill. Everything that she writes is there for a reason and the reason is to add dimension to the reader's experience with Barraclough's characters.
When Cora enters a dusty room, Barraclough doesn't just say, "Cora entered the dusty room." She makes sure to put her character through the paces so that Cora and the reader discover the dust together. And it's fun because in spite of the mature story that's unfolding before the reader, Barraclough recreates all the erratic whimsy and innocence that a preteen child exhibits. When Cora absentmindedly writes her name in the dust, it's exactly what you might see yourself doing at that same age. Barraclough is in sync with her inner child and that makes for interesting reading.
The reason that Long Lankin loses a half star has to do colloquialism for lack of a better term. Cora and Mimi are from London and they are from a blue collar family. The writer emphasizes the contrast in dialect between the London girls and what you might find in a small English village, and so Cora is prone to using terms like flippin' and blinkin' and flamin' to replace common vulgarities. ("Flippin' stupid" is an example.) It's quaint at first but I thought it was a bit overplayed and eventually it was kind of grating.
Let me also mention – as I always do – that there is some mildly inappropriate language. About fifteen uses of what I would term second tier vulgarity. Also, there is violence in this book that goes beyond the typical paranormal activity that you would get in a horror story. Cora is brutally beaten multiple times by Auntie Ida. Cora's father comes for a visit and sees the bruising on Cora's face and arms but leaves her in Auntie Ida's care anyway. This is another example of why I wouldn't recommend the book for children and sensitive young adults.