ParaNorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

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ParaNorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Cute, but quite effectively gruesome, this tale of a boy against an aged witch character has all the fun the cinema version hopefully shares, and is not just a cash-in.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 9781444909883

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Things are not easy when you're the only kid in town who can see, and talk to, ghosts. You can't bury your own grandma in peace without other ghosts asking you to pass on messages to those they left behind. You can't study biology without the toad you're supposed to dissect asking for a better end. And you can't take an unwanted starring lead in the school pageant, even when it's a special one for the three-hundredth anniversary of the town's own witch trial, without getting a message from beyond that means the legacy of that historical event will be a life or death matter…

This novel, based on what, as I write, is a forthcoming 3D movie, might not have all the special effects and extravagant set pieces, but what it does have is a clarity and simplicity that bring the story to the fore. Norman's character, of the boy forced to inherit a role as guardian for the whole town against the vengeful witch of old, is very nicely created. He's the one who only has one other child in school picked on more regularly than he; he's the one whose older sister loves pink, while he likes zombie food blood red. His horror movie fascination will not be the only weapon he has to rely on when the armies of undead come – in a very PG fashion – to destroy the town.

That clarity and simplicity might actually create some problems - although they are mostly for the reviewer and not the reader. I'm not altogether sure that the primary school age horror novel is an accepted genre as of yet, but this manages to factor zombies losing their heads, limbs and brain matter in a very cartoonish yet overt way. I can't state for sure that some younger, more sensitive people won't be upset by some of this upon reading it. And as a reviewer I can't for the life of me tell where Ms Kimmel has rewritten the dialogue to suit her own rhythms and pace, or how she has fleshed the movie screenplay out to a three-hour-plus novel.

But what that means is that this is very much a book in its own right, and a very successful one. It has great drama, and even in cutting from scene to scene – as with a modern-day lynch mob separate to Norman and his companions – conveys the entire plot most satisfyingly. The biggest eyebrow it raised was with the good-old American formality, where Norman's parents are known to all and sundry by surname only. It's not just a book for Hallowe'en, nor for just until the film comes out on DVD and VoD. No, this is an amusing, sprightly, gutsy tie-in, and if you're in the market for cutesy-gory, this is for you.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a youngster helping yet another very different species of animal, we loved The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson. For an older audience of teens speaking to ghosts, start a great series with Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready.

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