Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle

One of the perennial problems for the book blogger/reviewer is the guilt that hovers over you because of the books you received or requested but never reviewed. Once the pure joy of receiving free books begins to wear off, and it does wear off even if not completely, this guilt begins to hang around.

The guilt has multiplied for me the past year or so as I have been in something of a funk when it comes to reviewing books. I still love to read and read quite a bit but the motivation to post has been spotty at best. As a result, there are quite a few books that I requested and read but never really reviewed or offered feedback of the sort publishers would prefer.

But this is not a new phenomenon. Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle is a perfect illustration. Seeking something to read on my Kindle before bed (I have far too many serious nonfiction works on my Kindle which are not what is needed for bedtime reading most nights), I decided to finally read this novella.

Lucretia’s best friend and upstairs neighbor Sunny—a sweet pitbull of a kid, even as she struggles with a mysterious illness—has gone missing. The only way to get her back is for Lucretia to climb the rickety fire escape of their Queens tenement and crawl through the window of apartment 6D, portal to a vast shadowland of missing kids ruled by a nightmarish family of mutants whose designs on the children are unknown. Her search for Sunny takes Lucretia through a dark fantasyland where she finds lush forests growing from concrete, pigeon-winged rodents, and haunted playgrounds. Her quest ultimately forces her to confront the most frightening specter of all: losing, forever, the thing you love the most.

Having finished reading, I went back to NetGalley and discovered that I had requested this book in 2012! It was a companion to The Devil in Silver. I was just looking for an interesting story; the fact that it was a novella was a bonus.

Nearly nine years later I can say that it was an interesting read but I am not sure LaValle pulled of the trick or stuck the landing to mix my metaphors. It is supposed to be a middle grade fantasy with a dash of horror. And the publisher isn’t shy in its marketing:

From one of the most acclaimed young writers of fiction in America today comes a fast-paced and fantastical novella about a young girl’s journey into a dark netherworld to find her missing best friend. … Lucretia and the Kroons is a dazzlingly imaginative adventure story and a moving exploration of the power of friendship and the terror of loss.

Um, for me? Not so much …

Despite a strong start that pulls you in, and a interesting central character in Lucretia (“Loochie”), it soon becomes clear that the story’s identity is fuzzy. At times it veers toward inappropriate content (just straight up inappropriate depending on your tolerance for such things) for middle grade readers. It also jumps from realism to fantasy with little set up or transition; one minute it is realistic the next metaphysical/fantastic. This is jarring and leaves the reader confused about the fantasy world/horror Loochie gets trapped in; why it exists, how it operates, if it is “real” or in her mind, etc.

And the ending just makes a mess of it all. Rather than offer insight or tie up loose ends, it just drops an anvil on things and calls it a day. It was neither satisfying nor thought provoking. I’m guessing it was something of a set up for the novel it is a companion to, but it undermined any of the enjoyment that might have been had from the story.

Which is too bad because there is a lot of creativity here. But the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Points for the attempt I guess but a frustrating read. The good news? It is only $.99 on Kindle and roughly 100 pages so the risk is low for those who want to make their own judgement.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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