Ronald L. Smith
Orphan Hoodoo Hatcher is named after the folk magic that everyone in his family can do except for him, but he had better figure out how to conjure quickly when a dark character called the Stranger comes to town looking for him. While the Stranger starts out as a sinister guy hanging around town, it comes to light that he has connections to Hoodoo’s dead father and wants Hoodoo to fulfill a debt his father left unpaid. Hoodoo gets help and support from a varied cast of characters – from the grandmother who raised him to a carnival mystic to his best friend and crush Bunny. It all culminates in a very creepy showdown that leaves Hoodoo the master of his own fate. Narrated in the first person by Hoodoo, his sayings and asides (“…if you don’t know”) are endearing but get to be repetitive in some instances. Hoodoo and nearly every character in the book are black and live in Jim Crow South, so the book addresses some of the segregation they experience. The religious and occult references and the dark and swampy setting create an atmosphere that you can almost feel as you read. This Southern Gothic is guaranteed to give you the creeps.
I love a good, scary children’s book and Hoodoo delivers. The Stranger reminded me of many other horror villains; that old man from the movie Poltergeist 2 and the devil personified in one of my favorite Stephen King stories “The Man in the Black Suit,” found in the collection Everything’s Eventual. It may be really scary stuff for more sensitive kids, but it is solidly middle grade in writing and even in creep factor. Hoodoo’s voice, with his know-it-all asides and Southern sensibilities, brings to mind Mo’s voice in Three Times Lucky. Despite all the parallels I draw between the characters in Hoodoo and other books, I haven’t read any other book for kids quite like Hoodoo. Southern Gothic children’s books are few and far between, and this is a good one.