If you loved They Threw Us Away, the first book in Daniel Kraus’s Teddies Saga, then you’re gonna love They Stole Our Hearts. As the second part of this series, They Stole Our Hearts offers everything that made the first book so intriguing alongside a healthy helping of world-building, character development, and big answers. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, and quick read. And I dare you to stop yourself from reading the whole thing in a single sitting. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of They Stole Our Hearts from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
They Stole Our Hearts Written by Daniel Kraus; illustrated by Rovina Cai The teddies—clever Buddy, brave Sunny, sweet Sugar, and wise Reginald—have managed to find a child. Life with Darling is far better than any they’ve known. But something’s not right—the promised bliss of Forever Sleep hasn’t come. And they are kept a secret from Darling’s mother, hidden underneath the child’s bed in the dusty darkness.
Then the inevitable happens: Mama discovers the teddies. And like all adults they’ve met thus far, she responds with fear and anger. The teddies must watch as one of their friends is destroyed. The remaining trio barely escape, thrust back into a world that does not want them.
Disillusioned and lost, the teddies embark on a journey back to the factory where they were created. En route, they find a civilization of discarded teddy bears. The comfort of a town of teddies has its allure…but the need for answers weighs heavy. And there’s something definitely off about these new teddies. Will our heroes accept their strange rules? Or must they dig deep for one more grand adventure to finally learn why they were thrown away?
An idyllic town hiding an unsettling and disturbing underbelly is one of my favorite horror tropes. There’s just something inherently scary about places that seem too perfect. And it’s a trope that Daniel Kraus uses to perfection in The Autumnal. Featuring a tense and emotional script from Kraus, some hauntingly abstract artwork from illustrator Chris Shehan, and gorgeous colors from Jason Wordie, The Autumnal delivers a rumination on generational trauma that’s as emotionally satisfying as it is scary. It’s a traditional creepy town story wrapped around an emotionally raw story about a mother and her daughter just trying to survive. And it’s a delightfully haunting read. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(Note: I received an ARC of this graphic novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. Additionally, mild spoilers follow.)
The Autumnal Written by Daniel Kraus Illustrated by Chris Shehan Colors by Jason Wordie Following the death of her estranged mother, Kat Somerville and her daughter Sybil flee a difficult life in Chicago for the quaint—and possibly deadly—town of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire. From NY Times best-selling author, Daniel Kraus (The Shape of Water, Trollhunters, The Living Dead), and rising star Chris Shehan, comes a haunting vision of America’s prettiest autumn.
I have lots of fond memories of reading middle-grade horror books as a kid. There’s just something so fun about those stories. These authors get to play around with scary ideas but can’t go too far with them. It’s like sitting around a campfire and hearing a scary story – it’s not necessarily scary, but it’s kind of creepy and it stays with you for a while after you’ve read it. The best children’s horror books are like that – Coraline, Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, etc. It’s with this context that I approached They Threw Us Away. I am a fan of Daniel Kraus’s work; he’s written some of my favorite books over the last few years and I was very excited to see what he’d do with a story aimed at a younger audience. In some ways, he did exactly what I expected him to do, delivering a story that mixes scarier elements with more adventure-filled ones. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the book and I think it’s gonna be a big hit with its target audience. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: There may be minor spoilers for They Threw Us Away. You have been warned. Additionally, I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.)
They Threw Us Away (written by Daniel Kraus, illustrated by Rovina Cai) Buddy wakes up in the middle of a garbage dump, filled with a certain awareness: he’s a teddy bear; he spent time at a Store waiting for his future to begin; and he is meant for the loving arms of a child. Now he knows one more thing: Something has gone terribly wrong.
Soon he finds other discarded teddies―Horace, Sugar, Sunny, and Reginald. Though they aren’t sure how their luck soured, they all agree that they need to get back to the Store if they’re ever to fulfill their destinies. So, they embark on a perilous trek across the dump and into the outer world. With ravenous rats, screeching gulls, and a menacing world in front of them, the teddies will need to overcome insurmountable challenges to find their way home.
Zombies are one of my favorite horror story “monsters.” There’s something so haunting about a threat that is basically humanity but slightly… off. Zombies don’t have a motive; there’s no reason why they do the things they do. They simply operate off a basic needs-based system. They’re the very definition of id: they need to feed and they need to feed now. There’s something scary about a foe that looks exactly like us but cannot be reasoned with or stopped. But, all that aside, the most interesting thing about zombies is the way the stories that feature them force us to take a good look at ourselves. A common theme in most zombie stories is how the plague turns humanity into the real monsters. It’s one of my favorite tropes of the genre and something I love to see various storytellers sink their teeth into. Nobody was better at this than George A. Romero. His films pioneered the modern zombie genre by focusing their lenses on the intimate human stories rather than the epic, action-packed survival stories we might see today. Romero seemed most interested in how individual people react to zombies rather than what, specifically, caused them or how they might be defeated. It’s what made his films interesting and it’s what makes his novel, The Living Dead (completed by Daniel Kraus after Romero’s passing), interesting. The novel is more epic in scale than any of Romero’s films but feels no less intimate than the best of his work. It’s a brilliant achievement in the career of a man who had many brilliant achievements and it’s quite possibly one of the best zombie novels I’ve ever read. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(Mild spoilers for the novel follow!)
The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus Set in the present day, The Living Dead is an entirely new tale, the story of the zombie plague as George A. Romero wanted to tell it. It begins with one body. A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead. It spreads quickly. In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.
Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead. We think we know how this story ends. We. Are. Wrong.
I don’t normally review YA novels for the sheer fact that they so rarely appeal to me. I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the typical fare they cover (teenage drama, lots of romance, etc) so I tend to stay away from them. But I’ve read some of Daniel Kraus’ previous work, the most recent being his adaptation of The Shape of Water, and really enjoyed it. So, when I saw that he had a new book coming out and read the book’s synopsis, I was definitely intrigued. It sounded like the kind of thing that might be right up my alley (being an avid lover of Science Fiction and Horror), so it seemed like a fun book to look into. Having now finished it, I can say that it was a good decision on my part. It’s a really well-written story that does its damndest to defy the normal constraints of its genre. I really enjoyed it and I think it’ll be a good read for a number of different audiences – including, but not limited to, the YA crowd. (Mild spoilers may follow.)
Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.
But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.
Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.