Gustav Gloom and the People-Taker is a quirky story that is part scare-your-socks-off and part chuckle-to-yourself. Gustav sits in the front yard of the Gloom mansion. All who see him there are agreed that he appears to be the saddest, loneliest little boy in the world. Neighbors are NOT pleased to have the Gloom Mansion in the midst of their much cheerier environment and send in a social worker to straighten out the situation. Although the social worker does re-emerge from the Gloom household, legend has it that he was never the same again and lives out his days in an institution in another state–with the curious condition that he no longer has a shadow.
Then Fernie What and her family move into the salmon-colored house across the street. Fernie’s mother is a professional adventurer and her father is a Safety Inspector. Their father has spent his entire life trying to prepare and protect Fernie and her sister from any dangers that could potentially befall them–and he sees many. for example, Fernie and her sister must look left and right before crossing a street, but they must also look UP, in case a plane is just about to crash land on the very street they are preparing to cross.
Although they love their father, Fernie and her sister are restless under the burden of his safety lectures, instructions and precautions. They long for adventure–like their mother. And Fernie sees the possibility of just such an adventure when she encounters Gustav Gloom. Gustav and Fernie’s adventure inside the Gloom mansion is heart-pounding with truly evil undertones in the style of Neil Gaiman (who wrote Coraline) and the filmmaker Tim Burton of Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride fame.
Kristen Margiotta’s illustrations are distinctly Burton-like and definitely infuse Fernie and Gustav’s characters with the sweetness and humor that define their hearts and motives. In fact all the characters are portrayed in this manner with the exception of the unapologetically evil People-Taker, who takes on the ethereal qualities of the Nightmare King in William Joyce’s The Guardians series.
Although the illustrations borrow from other engaging stories, Gustav Gloom and Fernie What are absolutely distinct in their own characters. Gustav Gloom and the People-Taker has a tender friendship theme as well as providing young readers with an effective thrill, along the lines of a good roller-coaster-type terror: it lasts for a short time and quickly dissipates with relief and the realization that one is safe.
I have already checked the next two books in the series out of the library and am hoping for equally well-plotted stories with the consistently engaging characters of Gustav and Fernie! For a young reader who likes scary stories but still needs age-appropriate content, Gustav Gloom and the People-Taker is a great independent reading choice and would work as a read-aloud in the daytime as well.