Age: Middle Grade
Genre: Fiction, fantasy/horror
Lucretia Gardner and her best friend, Zhao Hun Soong, have a lot in common. Both girls are twelve years old and have nicknames (Lucretia is “Loochie” and Zhao is “Sunny”). They go to the same school and live in the same building in Flushing, Queens – in fact Loochie’s apartment is directly below Sunny’s. But there’s one thing they don’t share: only Sunny has cancer. Loochie wants to celebrate her birthday with Sunny, but this is impossible because Sunny is out of the state getting yet another treatment. When Sunny finally does return to Queens, she is so sickly that Loochie has to beg to spend time with her. The day they are supposed to hang out, Sunny disappears and a very creepy, deformed person comes to lead Loochie to her best friend – but it means going into apartment 6D, which is supposedly haunted by the shells of former crackheads. What Loochie finds in 6D can only be described as a horrifying nightmare, but she must fight through it to save her friend.
Author Victor LaValle has certainly created a dark world for his preteen characters to inhabit. LaValle does an excellent job portraying the strained friendship between Loochie and Sunny as well as the girls’ emotions regarding cancer and death. I can see readers who have watched a friend suffer through any serious disease relate to Loochie and her desire for her friend’s healing and for things to just go back to how they were before. But when the story turned more towards fantasy with the Kroons in apartment 6D, it got too dark and nightmarish for me.
I did enjoy the author’s writing. He used some good descriptive phrases, such as describing the cool girls at school as “clumped together like socks that had just come out of the dryer.” I also liked the idea he proposed of hell and heaven as places we could access from earth. He has Loochie wonder about hell and ask, “why couldn’t [it] be located in a sixth-floor apartment […]?” And he presents heaven as a baseball stadium. Sunny describes it like this: “Everyone who makes it inside is at peace. It’s bright and warm all day. You can take a seat in the stands or run around with other kids down on the field. There’s no pain in there. No need for hospital visits. Doesn’t that sound nice?” This passage is particularly heart-wrenching coming from Sunny and seeing what her life has degraded into due to her cancer. For her, heaven is simply living a normal childhood. And the author’s descriptions of the horrors Loochie encounters are truly the things of nightmares, with a playground full of abandoned toys left by vanished children, people with slack faces and no jawbones chasing after her, and mud so thick and deep that she nearly drowns in it.
I guess that was the author’s point in writing the story – to scare the reader – but I didn’t enjoy that part of the story. That doesn’t mean the intended audience won’t like it, but hopefully they will be prepared for the darkness they are getting into when reading this novella. I would definitely recommend it for the older middle-grade reader due to the subject matter.
LaValle, Victor. Lucretia and the Kroons. New York: Spiegel & Grau (Random House Publishing Group), 2012.