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Monday, August 1
Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom
My rating: ★★★★½
Publisher: Crown Books
Date of publication: August 9, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Mystery, Horror
Format: ARC received from author
Themes: playgrounds, childhood, friendship, monster, good vs evil, community
When the mysterious Dr. Fell moves into the abandoned house that had once been the neighborhood kids’ hangout, he immediately builds a playground to win them over. Soon, kids from across the city are flocking to the ever-expanding structure to play for hours on end. But it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. In a flash, Dr. Fell has them fixed up—totally healed!—and only Jerry, Nancy, and Gail find it odd. In fact, these three seem to be the only people in the whole neighborhood not bewitched by Dr. Fell and his extravagant wonderland. As the number of injuries increases, they alone must find a way to uncover the doctor's secret healing power—and his darker ulterior motive—without falling under his spell.
This book is amazing. Creepy, hilarious, exciting, disturbing, and completely brilliant all in one. Yes, it is that awesome. I read it practically in one sitting. While it is a spooky mystery, the humor is what really made me love it. With a bit of a parody undertone (what with the kids attending McKinley Grant Fillmore Elementary or Washington Madison Hoover Elementary or Lincoln Adams Coolidge Elementary), it definitely feels like Jerry, Nancy, and Gail (I mean, seriously, even their names) fell right out of Beaver Cleaver's neighborhood into the 21st century. I seriously laughed more with this book than any I've read in a while. Granted, I was picking up on a lot of the satire that may be missed by some younger readers, but kids will still get plenty of laughs.
Okay, but beyond the humor, there was a wonderful dose of creepy. The story moves along quickly, leaving just enough hints and ideas to keep the reader guessing at the mystery of Dr. Fell. There's some truly eerie scenes that will keep even the most reluctant of readers on edge. And the characters themselves were surprisingly deep; Neilsen could've easily stuck in some flat caricatures to go with the Beaver Cleaver theme and gotten away with it. But Jerry, Nancy, and Gail each have some insecurities and fears that really made it easy to be invested in their characters.
My only complaint—the tiny, half-star complaint—was the ending. Definitely exciting and scary, but let's just say Neilsen left room for a sequel, which left me a bit frustrated. On the whole, I seriously want kids to read this. They'll have a lot of fun, especially with the recent rise in popularity of spooky stories, or titles like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Scavenger Hunt.
Find it at your library or on Amazon
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