The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy
What’s more frightening: a monster lurking in the shadows, kidnapping children for its dark and nefarious purposes — or a human being who does the same, terrible thing? Are there really supernatural creatures lurking at the edge of human existence, or do we just tell ourselves stories to gloss over how awful our species can be? Even worse, what if both scenarios are true? Alexandra Sirowy explores these questions in her Young Adult debut novel, The Creeping, and I would guess that what readers think about her answers will tell you a lot about themselves and the things they fear.
When Jeanie Talcott and Stella Cambren were six years old, they went into the forest surrounding their sleepy Minnesota town to pick strawberries. Only Stella came out, wild-eyed and rambling about monsters in the woods, covered in Jeanie’s blood. Jeanie’s body was never found, and eleven years later, Stella can’t remember anything about that day. Now another little girl’s body has been found, and what should be the perfect lakeside summer before Stella’s senior year of high school is filled with terror and half-remembered flashes of Jeanie’s tear- and blood-stained face. Stella becomes convinced that if she can clearly recall Jeanie’s murder, it will shed light on this newest murder as well as bring closure to her own life. With the help of her friends Zoey and Sam, she discovers that the town of Savage has a history of violence including clandestine animal sacrifice and a long string of abductions and murders — always involving little redheaded girls. Is it human depravity, or is there truth to local folktales about a vicious supernatural presence which attacks children as revenge for the Chippewa tribe that was wiped out by Norse settlers?
Sirowy’s teenaged characters behave in credible ways, even when they’re making terrible decisions either under pressure or in their everyday lives. Zoey’s single-minded focus on popularity skirts the border of caricature as the novel begins, but Stella’s own gradual transformation from hanger-on to independent entity reveals a surprising depth to both of their characters. The most steadfast character is Sam, who is a genuinely nice guy (unlike the meatheads in Zoey and Stella’s social circle) and provides a necessary level of support for Stella. At the periphery of The Creeping’s narrative are Caleb and Daniel — Zoey and Jeanie’s older brothers, respectively — each with their own backgrounds and motives for helping Stella seek out the truth behind the connections between Jeanie’s disappearance and all those other little girls who have gone missing or been found murdered and mutilated. The adult characters, however, receive much less page time than some of them ought to (Detective Shane, in particular) considering how crucial the police investigation of Jeanie’s and the Jane Doe’s disappearances are to Stella’s recovery of her memories. It’s in this regard that the novel behaves in a predictably Young Adult fashion: clueless adults are on the periphery of the action and many teenagers are left to their own devices, practically raising themselves because their parents are too busy with work or other concerns. It clears the way for Stella to spend time alone with Sam or wander out of the house at all hours of the day (or night), but I would have been more interested in watching Stella come up with creative ways to investigate Savage’s past while evading the active presence of her father. Luckily, the majority of The Creeping reads like a thriller which is accessible to all age groups, and avoids many other common pitfalls of YA novels.
Familiarity with the woods and lakes of Minnesota is not required for the reader’s enjoyment of The Creeping; Sirowy’s prose is atmospheric, creating an oppressive sense that the forest and its dangers are drawing closer as Stella’s memories clarify. Sirowy’s teenaged characters sound like teenagers, both in dialogue and Stella’s narration, which helps maintain a sense of realism among the supernatural occurrences. Sirowy writes with an eye for the sensory, using details like the texture of meatballs or the frigid temperature of a lake to fully ground her characters in the world they inhabit. As a result, when something happens which cannot be rationally explained, it’s all the more disorienting and unsettling for Stella and the reader alike.
The story is well-paced, propelling the reader through the twists and turns of the plot without seeming like Sirowy is rushing to the Big Reveal. I read the book in a single sitting, unwilling to put it down for more than a few minutes before diving back in. Stella’s voice is compelling, the mystery of the missing girls is well-crafted, and I was absolutely satisfied with the conclusion. I can comfortably recommend The Creeping, and I will wait for Sirowy’s next novel with great anticipation.
It’s always exciting to be introduced to new authors, don’t you think?
Especially one who includes so many details without bringing the plot to a halt. :) Sirowy’s planning to have another book out next year, and you can bet I’ll be reading it.