{book} gustav gloom and the people taker

gustav peopletaker coverGustav Gloom and The People Taker (bk1)

by Adam-Troy Castro

Illustrated by Kristen Margiotta

Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin) 2012.

hardcover, 226 pages.

Gustav Gloom’s neighbors think he is the unhappiest little boy in the world. But what they don’t know is that the strange, dark house Gustav lives in is filled with more wonders and mysteries than could ever be explained. But explain is exactly what Gustav needs to do when Fernie What moves in across the street. And that’s when the adventure really begins…

When her cat chases his own shadow into the Gloom mansion, not only does Fernie get lost in Gustav’s house full of shadows, but she also finds herself being chased by the mysterious People Taker. With Gustav’s help, Fernie must save herself, her cat, and ultimately her family from what lurks in the Gloom mansion.  (back cover copy)

It wasn’t long into the novel that I got a sense of the Burton-esque, but it may be that I have watched Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton 1990) recently. It wasn’t that the narrator was channeling Vincent Price for me. It was the suburban neighborhood with a “fluorescent salmon house” across the street from a black, cloud- and fog-enshrouded castle, soon to be followed by Gustav Gloom’s unaffected replies to Fernie’s questions, and how the only world that truly seemed inexplicable was Fernie’s own.

There is also a cuteness about the story (despite the deliciously sinister villain) that places it closer to Burton’s darkling tales than say Brothers Grimm or Chris Priestley. There is a lot of energy and silliness that nears the over-the-top mark; the sort that has one wondering if the narrator is just too giddy with its own cleverness and humor to notice the “delightful” has begun to outweigh “dark;” thus I arrive at cute. The illustrations also tip those scales a bit.

gustav gloom image 3

{“Chapter One: The Strange Fate of Mr. Notes”}

David Roberts (for Priestley’s Tales of Terror) in its Gorey-esque illustrations would have been too stark and baleful for Gustav Gloom, that or I’m fully convinced by Kristen Margiotta’s full page illustrations introducing each chapter. They are adorable, aren’t they? The Goodreads page quotes “beautifully dark.” It certainly prints on the page dark, but I think they are too cute to be “beautiful.” Nicoletta Ceccoli is beautifully dark. Margiotta’s work carries off the kind of sweetness the book is offering a young audience; there is just enough seasoning of sinister to thrill a young reader.

gustav gloom image{“Chapter Ten: The Gallery of Awkward Statues”}

Before long it revealed itself as a sculpture—and not just any sculpture, but one of those massive, looming, white marble sculptures of a heroic-looking, muscle-bound man. Fernie had seen a number of sculptures like that in museums and in movies set in museums, and had always been impressed by the way the figures in the sculptures were constantly doing noble things like waving swords or standing at podiums making speeches or holding the Earth over their heads.

This one, though, didn’t look nearly as important.

The statue depicted a man, as muscle-bound as a mythical hero, stooping to examine the sole of his right foot to see whether he’d stepped in something.

It was such a realistic marble sculpture that Fernie could tell that he had. It wasn’t just that it looked gooshy and smeary, but his stone face was also contorted with disgust at the smell.

“Ewww,” said Fernie, pleased.

“It’s one of my favorites,” Gustav agreed. (122-3)

So the narrator reads a bit hyper at times for me, and I would roll my eyes at seeming digressions but they rather cleverly pass the time and flesh out the characters while the author is able to retain the scale and grandeur of Gloom’s house. And it is fantastic—the house. The imagination is incredibly entertaining. Castro is really good with the action sequences. And the exploration of “shadow” is stellar: how does one work, are there some good metaphors, like:

“The way Great-Aunt Mellifluous once explained it to me is that people who spend their entire lives sitting around never doing anything become shadows of what they could have been, so they deserve a room here as much as anybody.” (148)

gustav gloom image 2

{Chapter Three: The Odd Tale of Mrs. Adele Everwiner and the Rude Cashier}

Second only to the imagination of both the Gloom house and the safety hazards/procedures, Castro imagines some superb characters. The villain is awesomely bad. The beast is something we learn to laugh at–eventually. The children are smart and daring and are, in what is ultimately a friendship story, the kind of people the reader will want to be and know. The adults can be pretty silly, if even a little frustrating. I mean, who are these people and why do they wield so much power over children? Fernie and Pearlie’s dad has to be the most helicopter-y parent realized in kid-lit—but in an affectionate way. (His wife would be the most hands off.) He is also subject of one of the most amusing punch-lines in the novel (I won’t spoil it). Of the non-shadow adult figures in the Gustav Gloom, he is the one genuinely cares. The others are fairly grotesque. Older readers will read the social commentary, young readers will just find resonance, laughter (a really good coping mechanism), and the sort of optimism a good story of friendship set in adventure can provide.

As Gustav Gloom proceeds we learn more about our protagonists Fernie and Gustav, (not that the secondary characters remain flat by any means), but both carry loads of personality and loads of back story—especially Gustav. Just who is this boy and how did he come to be in his situation, tethered to the gated lawn and house within? Needless to say, Book One sets up plenty of tantalizing material for series. Go ahead a make sure you have book 2 on hand, Gustav Gloom and The Nightmare Vault (April 2013); the 3rd book The Four Terrors looks like it is set to release mid-August 2013.


Recommendations:  ages 8-11, boys & girls. for readers who like their houses to have crazy imaginations and a bit of silliness; and who can appreciate enough humor and childhood antics to blunt the sinister edge a bit. This is a good one, too, for parents to read along with, to enjoy together: maybe for Carl’s R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril challenge in the Fall? or these long summer evenings. Plan to finish it off with a pancake dinner or chocolate chip cookies (or both?).

Of note: Early on, I kept thinking, a picture book by Castro could be interesting. Too, the final portrait of Gustav confirmed a suspicion that was forming: he could related to the Culkin boys (Macaulay & Kiernan).

{images belong to Kristen Margiotta, check out her site and be sure to peruse her illustrations and paintings, especially if you like what you see here; she is certainly familiar with figures of horror, fairy tales, & the macabre}

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

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