Review by Deborah K. Frontiera
The middle-grade novel Voodoo Shack is not just for kids. Adults who grew up in the 1960s will remember, fondly or otherwise, their growing-up years. Parents of today’s middle-grade readers may comment, “So that’s what it was like for my parents, and it’s pretty much like it was when I grew up in the 1980s.” And today’s kids might say, “So that’s why my grandma is so weird. But wait, she’s a lot like me!” Coming of Age is just that, no matter what decade it’s in. Young people rebel, do foolish things that lead to even more foolish things as they try to hide or fix the first foolish things … can’t talk to their parents, grandparents … but along the way, they learn the values of friendship, trust, love, and family that will last them a lifetime. Some might say “There is nothing new under the sun,” BUT universal themes are the reason stories last through many generations.
Iris, the book’s eleven-year-old heroine, and her friends turn a falling-down hunting cabin into a secret clubhouse they name “Voodoo Shack”. Rumor has it that the place belonged to an old man who died or was possibly murdered. Add to that the idea that this old man buried a treasure somewhere on that property in the middle of a swamp. It’s the perfect recipe for getting into trouble. While part of Iris and her friends are afraid of the possible ghosts, or worse yet, meeting the murderer, they are drawn into this mystery that much more.
Iris, insulted by the neighborhood “uppity” girl who calls her a word she must look up in the dictionary and still not understand, begins to question everything she’s been told about her absent father, whom she was told was killed in action while serving in the Korean War. She’s so consumed with this idea that she can’t focus on the book she’s supposed to read for school. The rivalry with this girl and the need to prove herself, lead to sneaking out, breaking all the rules her mother and grandparents have set for her, even climbing out an upper-story window. And, of course, she gets caught and grounded. The book report for school remains undone—she can’t even manage to read the book. The more troubles pile up, the more stubborn and determined she is to solve the mystery of the Voodoo Shack and the mystery of her parents’ relationship.
Told in first person, the author speaks from a young person’s point of view with authenticity as shown in this example from pg. 78:
“My rumbling stomach was drowned out by the sound of my teeth chattering. I didn’t even have a blanket, let alone a sleeping bag. I sat dripping, adding another puddle to the floor, while the wind howled.
“I couldn’t go home or to Kokelmeyers’, because of the storm. It would be completely dark soon and I would never find my way out of the woods. Besides, my ankle was throbbing like it wanted to explode. That meant I would have to stay in the Voodoo Shack.”
Stay—in the place of her secret fears, without her friends, all alone, or at least thinking she is utterly alone.
ISBN 978-1-61599-720-6 Modern History Press, Ann Arbor, MI 2023, www.modernhistorypress.com 144 pages, Ret. $16.95