Monday, October 29, 2018

Steve Rasnic Tem's The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack

(My apologies to Steve Rasnic Tem. I had originally planned to have this out much earlier in the Halloween season but life got away from me. Oh, and that's not a typo. It really is Dr. Blaack with two "a"s.)

Everyone loves a good Halloween tale and that includes your loving blogger, slaving away over a hot keyboard to bring you his latest review. This is a time of year that I look forward too starting on November first, and I was really looking forward to reading Steve Resnic Tem's The Mask Shop of Dr. Blaack. And I'm happy, because I was really impressed. Tem did a good job with this one.

I haven't read much YA Horror. I'm aware of the whole Goosebumps thing and I read the first three books from the Series of Unfortunate Events series, but it's not something I'm well versed in. That might have to change though, because I really got a hoot out of this one. It was creepy enough that it made me feel a little apprehensive, but not bad enough that I would hesitate to let my twelve-year-old daughter read it.

I'm going to mention something here that's kind of a spoiler. I don't generally do spoilers and, generally speaking, anything that I absolutely HAVE TO include to make a review usually show up in the first few pages and don't ruin anything, but this time it's a bit different. The fact is that The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack is a good to great story. The caveat is that this thing takes a long time to get started. I was just having a conversation with a friend. I mentioned to him that it took me longer to get through the first fifty pages than it did for me to get through the remaining two-hundred fortyish pages after that. Once it gets moving though, it rocks.

Our heroine is a girl named Lauren. She's twelve years old and too mature for trick or treating. She could give some of the kids in my neighborhood a lecture here. Maybe she should. Err... well if she existed anyway. At any rate, she's got a problem. Her parents want her to take her little brother Trevor out trick or treating and she's kind of stuck. The first part of the story deals with mainly this issue. It's not until after she accepts it and heads off to the Mask Shop to get costumes for both herself and her brother that things really get started, but once they do...

The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack really gets going when Trevor's mask gets stuck to his face. And I don't mean stuck as in "pour some hot water in to dissolve the glue." I mean stuck as in "this thing is magical and isn't coming off until Halloween and then only if you're lucky." The even bigger problem is that Halloween isn't for a couple of days and she has to keep the world from discovering the problem. It's a lot of fun.

I won't go too far into Lauren's character arc except to say that it's pretty amazeballs. She does a lot of maturing over the course of a single novel and it makes sense in the context of the story. It builds slowly but it's nice to see. I grew up in an era where a lot of children's books (there was no such thing as a YA genre in the long ago era of the Eighties) dealt with minor problems and the protagonists didn't change much. Tem puts his heroine through a situation that not every adult would be equipped to deal with and she takes it head on. If things don't always go as planned, well, that's life. She finds a way through and that's what's impressive. There is one specific issue that I don't seem to agree with her on, but she makes her own decision and at twelve, that's pretty impressive.

Lauren shows more leadership than a lot of the adults I've known too. There are times when she has to take the blame for things she didn't do.  There are times when she has to deal with problems she has no way to anticipate. There are times when she has to keep Trevor encouraged. She can't take credit for any of it or the secret of the stuck mask will be out. None of it would be easy, but she does what needs to be done and doesn't complain about it. This is a young lady with chutzpah.

Trevor, for his part, is a little trooper too. There are times when I'd expect a child that age (like my daughter) to break down and cry. The fact of the matter is that he does whine a bit but in his case, so would I and I'm a grown man. He gets through things though, even when they're not easy. I like this kid.

The thing that makes The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack work so well is that everyone else acts the way you would expect them to if everything was normal. Tem has built his world so well that it's almost seamless with our own. There's just that one tiny little exception about weird masks that stick on faces and do crazy stuff and nobody knows about that. It's close enough to be familiar and just far out enough to be weird. It works perfectly.

I know I got into this a bit already, but it really did take this book a long time to get started. I spent the first fifty pages or so wandering off to do laundry, or checking my Facebook or checking to see how many hits my last post had, etc. Once it took off, it really took off, but if you're going to read this one you need to be patient. The thing is, I do kind of wonder how much of the lead in to this book was really necessary. It really feels like the first fifty pages could have been condensed down to one or two. I think the book would honestly have worked a lot better that way. All in all though, it's still an enjoyable read and, if you're into the Bella character from Twilight, it does kind of work I guess.

Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 Dangling Straps

The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack
Steve Rasnic Tem
Hex Publishers, 2018

The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack is available for purchase at the following link:

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