Freeze is the newest offering from Chris Priestley, recognised as a master of horror writing for children drawing in the weaving, building style of classic Gothic writers such as Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe rather than gore or shock tactic. These tales creep into you consciousness rather than jump scare you, and oh so the better for it.
Freeze is not the first collaboration with Barrington Stoke for Chris and this experience and skill shines throughout as this nested story collection respects the need for balance between building stamina and hooking the reader in, but equally refuses to compromise on experience and so doesn’t give the best parts away in the opening pages. Evoking fireside tales such as ‘are you afraid of the dark’ replacing the kitsch with a twist in the tale, this is epic horror for kids regardless of reading ability.
Maya awakes in the cold and makes her way alone to school where they are in the library for a cover lesson on Spooky Creative Writing. As the lesson unfolds and each of her friends read aloud their stories Maya is drawn deeper and into their chilling horror stories of scary events occurring in the cold.
But when the new girl stands up and tells her tale and the room turns icy cold, something is very wrong.
Maya is an exceedingly clever character to use. Maya obviously struggles with social cues, and possibly shows signs of ADHD as she speaks of wishing she could stop talking sometimes, is easily distracted and labelled as a troublemaker, with the librarian editing her behaviour and isolating her from distracting friends but equally it’s clear she has a vivid interior world and hyper-focuses into things that inspire her such as the stories.
Horror continues to be an engaging and popular genre for recommending to more avoidant reluctant readers, and so many young readers recommended or tasked to read this may find they empathise with Maya as a source of empathy and resonance in her struggles and shame at being unable to control her behaviour like others, or getting her friends into trouble with innocent exuberance. Something i noticed as a secondary school teacher was that children with additional needs just need the right conditions and support and they blossom, as Maya could which makes her such a wonderful and engaging protagonist.
In this way Priestley’s storycraft especially in structure is exceptionally thoughtful and powerful. Simple short sentences, bite sized dialogue and familiar settings ease the reluctant or struggling reader into the plot with gentle ease, and slowly builds; increasing length and complexity, layering slowly with extended paragraphs, concepts Nae vocabulary with each turn of a storyteller building to a crashing crescendo.
The blend of supernatural with psychological creepiness is beautiful and chilling (pun intended) the horror of each tale dancing out of ordinary settings and building in complexity and horror each time is utterly masterful and whilst as an adult I can predict from cues, even if the young reader can too, it doesn’t erase the thrill, and in fact if it does happen empowers and orients the young reader as observer of the tale; another gift from Priestley in this accessible tale.
Freeze by Chris Priestley is published by Barrington Stoke
Thank you for my copy 💜