Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall

I just read Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall (Viking, August 2020), in a one and a half hour single sitting (more or less); it was a lovely spooky mystery!  Because I'm going to have to spoil things in writing about the book (although the official blurb spoils everything) , I'll just quickly note that it's a good one if you like to read about kids in supernatural peril (of the bad bargain with fey folk kind), who find the clues to save themselves in old fairy tales and the town archives, and who have each other's backs beautifully, you'll like it lots!  

Elle has come to the idyllic little town of Eden Eld in Oregon, where she was born, to live with her aunt and uncle, after her house burned and her mother disappeared.  She is sad and scared to start with, determined to be Normal, to just get through each day. Normal is hard, though, when Elle begins seeing impossible, disturbing, even terrifying things, like a fearsome black dog with red eyes that no one else seems to see. Then she finds two kids at her school, Pip and Otto, who click with her and become friends before she can over-think it--and they can see these same very wrong things too.  They also share her birthday--all three will turn 13 on Halloween, a week away.  And they very quickly start figuring out that they aren't going to get festivities and parties.  Instead, they have to figure out how to save themselves from malevolent supernatural forces straight out of the fairy tale book Elle's mom read her over and over when she was little. 

And this is the spoilery part--

The three kids are going to be sacrificed in order for the town to prosper.  Ever since the town was founded back in the 19th, every thirteen years 3 kids born on Halloween are handed over to a supernatural, very wrong and creepy sort of being  to be taken by them out of our world.  In exchange, money magically flows into the town. And the grownups who are in charge of the town's end of the ritual bargain think it's still a good idea.

Elle, Pip, and Otto don't.  They think it stinks (especially since they are in mortal peril).  But they don't want to just save themselves; they want to make sure that future kids are safe too.

And this is something that I think make this book one that might speak to kids rather powerfully   (although I'm not sure the author in fact had this in mind or if I'm reading too much into it).  The grown-ups have made a horrible bargain.  Their comfortable, prosperous lives come at the expense of the unlucky kids who have no future, and Elle, Pip, and Otto are basically saying ok, Boomer, and not standing for it. (although after writing this, I realized to my horror that the bad grown-ups would be Gen X...like me. Parents sure are getting younger these days!)

I'm glad it was nominated for the Cybils awards, which is why I read it; the cover and the Goodreads synopsis don't suggest at all the strong fairy tale elements of rules and tricks and hidden clues that are central to the story!  I enjoyed it lots, and if you also like bizarre old houses, fairy tales, monstrous giant ash cats who have figured out how to bend the rules of the game, and good friends, do give it a try! 

(Otto is described, and shown on the cover, as brown-skinned, so I'll add this to my diverse fantasy list)

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