Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.
This review is for Bad Grains by Susanne Schmidt and has been chosen by Team Jamreads as one of the team’s semi-finalists.
Eleven-year-old Jo loves Halloween and all things horror, but she doesn’t believe anything bad could ever happen in Fels, her small German hometown. When Hektor, her annoying older brother, disappears on his way home from school, Jo assumes he is playing a prank on her. But then both her father and grandma forget Hektor’s name, and his stuff mysteriously disappears from his room.
With the adults of no help whatsoever, Jo starts an investigation of her own, uncovering an old legend that has haunted the children of Fels for centuries. A monster lives in the rye fields, and draws children into its world under the roots. With two days until the gate between their worlds closes, and only Hektor’s obnoxious best friend to help her, Jo must figure out a way to rescue her brother, or lose him forever.
Bad Grains is a Middle Grade horror adventure based around German Halloween customs that reminds me a lot of Goosebumps and other naughty tales for naughty kids that I enjoyed many MANY years ago. While I don’t personally read Middle Grade books, the setting was certainly interesting and unique enough to pull me in.
This is the story of Jo, an eleven year old girl with a very curious and determined nature who simply wants to have fun and celebrate Halloween like most kids do, though the adults of her life, even her older brother, don’t seem to make much time for her. But when her older brother disappears and the adults seem to forget he ever existed to begin with, Jo takes it on herself to uncover the truth. Jo is a very resourceful and smart kid who, contrary to what most kids would do, doesn’t immediately run into danger. She’s smart enough to seek and accept help where needed and teams up with her brother’s best friend on a quest that leads to a cute friendship between the two as they both grow in confidence when facing scary monsters.
I liked Jo for her determination, though she’s a lot more grown up that her big brother Hektor, who could do with growing up himself! I also liked that the adults eventually became useful and banded together to help save the day.
Bad Grains takes place in the German town of Fels and they’re quite resistant to Americanized holidays such as Halloween, which I don’t really blame them for. While this setting was interesting enough, the story explores German folklore and related monsters as Jo’s quest progresses, specifically related to rye fields, as you may guess from the title. There are some cozy autumnal vibes along with the horror.
The story felt like it was split into two halves, with Jo investigating her missing brother and then teaming up with her brother’s best friend to delve into the more supernatural world. I personally enjoyed the first half more, as the supernatural monsters felt a bit too childish for me, even if I did enjoy exploring the folklore surrounding them. I also felt this story could have ended a little earlier, as the ending carried on to set itself up for more stories to come.
So Bad Grains is written in present-tense, which I personally struggle with. The writing in this style can come across as flat to me, and it did at certain points, which made it hard for me to immerse myself. That said, the story is well written and easy to follow.
Bad Grains was a big hit on our team, hence why it was chosen as our team semi-finalist, but I didn’t feel like it quite worked for me, mostly because Middle Grade isn’t my usual style. However, there’s a lot to enjoy here, and I certainly enjoyed the German setting and folklore.
Cover Art and Formatting
The illustrated cover is lovely and I gotta say I just love the name Bad Grains!