Review - Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick
Why is no one around when Lance and the rest of Year Six arrive at the brand new Crater Lake activity centre?
But this is just the beginning of the school trip from hell; a fight for survival that sees five pupils band together to save their classmates from an alien fate far worse than death.
But whatever happens, they must Never. Ever. Fall asleep!
Don't ever fall asleep, it says. Ha! As if I could!
This book is completely thrilling from start to finish. I literally felt myself jump in the first chapter, and it just keeps going. It's not all jump-scares though there are a fair few of them. No, there's a beautifully constructed tension that builds and builds as the story develops. At first it's the mystery. We know from the opening sequence that there's something wrong, but we need to put the clues together with the book's protagonists to work out just what it is and how much trouble they are in. After that the peril feels very real as they chase around and are chased in turn.
This is sci-fi horror with scary monsters and a smattering of scientific explanation, without ever getting too bogged down in technical detail. And while it is undoubtedly thrilling, there shouldn't be anything in here that makes it unsuitably scary for its target audience of 9-12 year olds. It's a good scare, without ever crossing over into being too gruesome or haunting.
It is also funny. Very funny. Sitting in my chair cackling aloud to myself funny. A lot of the humour is in the language, some of the phrases used are just brilliant, and very fitting for the age range. But some of the sequences, particularly some of the stories the kids tell each other are just outright hilarious. There's less toilet humour than in Jennifer's earlier books, though there's still a smattering of poo references and a very funny fart, but I honestly think it's the funniest book she's written and one of the funniest books I've read in ages. It also has all of the contemporary cultural references that we've come to expect from Jennifer.
You know what I love about books like this? It's that it's not just about the humour, the silly jokes, it's not about the running around being chased by monsters peril. It's that they have all of that, and a lot of heart too. Crater Lake definitely doesn't disappoint in that respect. It's one of the book's absolute strengths. Lance, our hero, struggles academically, he's not sporty, he's not particularly popular, but he doesn't let that define him or what he's capable of. He also has underlying health issues and problems at home that have a significant impact on him socially.
The other characters are brilliant too. Trent, the bully, is a nasty piece of work, though ultimately as pathetic as many bullies turn out to be. Adrianne, the Head Girl, is one of my favourites. She is just so Bad-A, and gets so many awesome lines. She's truly inspiring. Big Mak and Katja really grew on me as the story progresses. They all have their strengths and their vulnerabilities, and the way they work together as a group is a wonderful thing to see.
This would be the perfect book for any children going through health related issues and feeling like it is starting to define them or impact on their relationships. There's a truly beautiful sequence where Lance realises that he isn't the only one with issues and secrets, and this is a book that really knows the importance of trust and friendship. It never simplifies it either. There are complex messages in there about when to stand back and let people by themselves, when and how to support, and how not everyone is going to be the cool people who support you no matter what. Every group has their bullies, I guess, and that reality is not ignored here.
Thrills, giggles and a whole lot of heart. Crater Lake might not be the best venue for a school trip, but it makes for a fantastic read.
Crater Lake is written by Jennifer Killick and published by Firefly Press. It will be released on 19th March 2020. I was given a proof copy for reading and reviewing.