Mr. Nava offered me an opportunity to review his juvenile novel, FEARFUL Scary Stories of the Evil App after noticing my review for Max Braillier’s The Last Kids on Earth. Let me make clear that I received no monetary payment for reviewing this book. Mr. Nava only provided me with a free Kindle-edition copy of his novel. The rating provided is my own, and it is honest.
- Author: Christian Nava with illustrations by Jesús Duke
- Publisher: Independently published
- Genre: Juvenile Fiction; Juvenile Horror
- Release Date: September 2, 2021
Esau “S” Bryant is a twelve-year-old boy desperate to become an influencer to help his family. And when he finds a strange phone in an abandoned mall, it seems he finally got a lucky break, until he realizes his new mobile device is cursed.
Now he will have to face his worst fears and fight an online evil spirit to save himself, his family, and—the world.
Christian Nava’s FEAFUL is one part Goosebumps nostalgia, one part Stephen King’s aversion toward technology – in this case phones and live-streaming – and two parts entertainingly fun. Nava breathes life into a diverse cast of characters and molds a spooky-literary universe that will surely spawn a great series that both middle-graders and their parents will enjoy.
Nava introduces twin brother Esau and Jake in the midst of the Squall – an electrical storm that sparks up strange activity in the small town of Quiet Falls. The brothers are vastly different – or so says, Esau, our narrator. Jake is a prodigy, while Esau is an aspiring social media influencer. (As a father of a middle-grader who aspires to be a YouTuber, Esau hits close to home.)
Esau wants to win the Playoffs, an online competition with a money prize. His goal isn’t just to make it big, but to use the money to put his family back together again. These plans are derailed when Jake finds a mysterious phone in an abandoned mall. Using the phone, Jake’s online popularity rises while Esau’s fails.
However, something isn’t right in Quiet Falls. Rumors of strange happenings are spreading. Strange sightings are seen. And Esau is certain that his brother’s phone is at the center of it all.
I love the characters Nava breathes life into. There’s CJ, Esau’s best friend and next-door neighbor, whose geeky sensibility brings extra nerdom to the story – she named her cats after The Fellowship of the Ring! Not to mention CJ’s cousin, Kara, who was sent to live with her uncle for the summer after an incident at her old school. And while they play a small part, parents do have a role in this story. The twins’ parents are human. We see that their mom is having troubles of her own when Esau notes a bottle of sleeping pills by her beside table. And their father is chasing a dream that may have caused the riff in the family.
Nava engages the audience by using the current slang. He incorporates folklore into his story, digging deep into the Native American mythologies. My hopes is that this stirs some interest in his young readers to research the matter; although, I hope they have a better experience than Esau when he visited the public library (see Afterthought).
While the story does keep the reader’s attention, there are some things that I frowned upon as an adult – surely the targeted audience will ignore these “faults.”
The first is, of course, the use of current lingo. The problem with trying to relate to much with youths today is their ever growing and altering vocabulary. What is popular today may not be popular tomorrow.
Nava also leaves so many branches in his novel – untied strings that aren’t resolved by the story’s end. However, it is clear what he is doing – this is just the beginning of Nava’s literary universe which will surely span throughout several novels (something I look forward to reading).
The one thing that really got me is the library scene. Mr. Nava did you really ask me to read your novel without knowing that I’ve worked within the library world for the last decade of my life? Can we stop with the age-old, redundant library tropes?
Nava writes: “Instead of googling what I needed, I ventured into the local book cemetery (AKA the public library) to remain off the grid” (emphasis mine). Nava continues by writing: “…the librarian, a little bald man with glasses, kicked me out for being too loud” (emphasis mine).
Libraries aren’t the quiet, dusty-book filled chambers conjured up on popular culture. Instead, libraries are filled to the brim with public activities – not all of them quiet. Painting them as unwelcoming toward children only damages the work we’ve done thus far in trying to prove otherwise. So please – Mr. Nava – and all writers of juvenile literature – it’s time to end this library trope.