Scared To Death by Alan Gibbons

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Scared To Death by Alan Gibbons

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: This one will be gobbled up by inveterate bookworms and reluctant readers alike. The action comes thick and fast, but the plot resolution is more slowly built, drawing even the most unwilling readers into a real relationship with both characters and narrative. Great stuff.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Orion Childrens
ISBN: 978-1842551776

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When Paul meets Redman on the tube on his way home one evening, something inexplicable happens. The usually sensible, straight-laced, cautious Paul is completely charmed by this enigmatic and charismatic older boy. Before he knows it, Paul has phoned his mother and told her that he's staying at a friend's house for an all-night computer game session. The following morning, a hungover Paul wakes up on a sofa in a student house - scene of a party he and Redman gatecrashed. The evening's "entertainment" had included alcohol, far too much alcohol, joy-riding, police chases and the snogging of girls only just met. It's just not like Paul. He goes home, feeling somewhat abashed, but also very slightly liberated.

The liberation doesn't last long. When the girl Redman met at the student party turns up dead and Redman is nowhere to be found, Paul starts to wonder. When the body count increases, he starts to feel afraid. Over at the East London Advertiser, journalist Mel Fleetwood is also starting to wonder, as are Detective Inspector Ditchburn and Detective Sergeant Hussein. The parallels with the 19th century Jack the Ripper murders are just too many. Who is Redman? And can Paul stop him?

Ooh. I really enjoyed Scared to Death. It's tense, it's creepy, it's wonderfully credible. Paul is in Year 10 and, bearing in mind children often like a protagonist a year or two older than themselves, the book is perfectly pitched for the 11-14 market. It's very definitely scary and there is a lot of gore, but there's nothing too cerebral. It's an honest-to-goodness supernatural thriller, exciting and shivery with a little pseudo time-travel thrown in, but I don't think it would make anybody too frightened to go to bed. It's far more likely to inspire "this is so cool, you have to read this bit" conversations, if my children's reactions are anything to go by.

Paul is a tremendously sympathetic character - he's completely normal (aside from his dormant supernatural abilities, obviously) and his life is completely normal too. He has immediately recognisable problems and immediately recognisable habits. He's not the class boffin, or the class joker, or the class rebel. He's just a normal young boy, happily minding his own business until Redman appears. I like reluctant heroes and so do children. They love to see a protagonist draw on hitherto unrealised depths. They like to imagine that they too could rise to the occasion. This homeliness, this unremarkableness, helps to create a comforting background for the reader too, and this is, cleverly, what allows Gibbons to get away with the scary passages.

The book doesn't rush - it's a welcome relief from the bang-crash-wallop, high-octane stuff for young teen boys so prevalent at the moment. It builds tension slowly and cleverly and is ultimately a more rewarding read for it. The evocation of London's East End, both past and present, is also a powerful one and Scared to Death captures urban life in all its verve and vividness. It's a vigorous, strong book and will appeal to even the most reluctant of readers. I'm going to have a slight moan that it couldn't just finish with the resolution of the Redman story but had to set us up with a cliffhanger for a second book about Paul - if a book is good, we'll read another; if it isn't, we won't. Cliffhangers do try my soul. But aside from that, Scared to Death is a fabulous book, hitting all the right notes, and Bookbag recommends it.

My thanks to the good people at Orion for sending the book. We also have a review of Gibbons' Raining Fire.

If they enjoyed this, they might also enjoy Frances Hardinge's supernatural thriller Verdigris Deep. Older readers might enjoy The Cleaner by Mark Dawson.

Booklists.jpg Scared To Death by Alan Gibbons is in the Top Ten Books For Children Who Love To Be Scared Silly.

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Buy Scared To Death by Alan Gibbons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Scared To Death by Alan Gibbons at


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