I find myself in a bit of a quandary – I’m not entirely sure how to review this book. The most critical thing I need to talk about is the way the ending completely changed my appreciation of the story, but I can’t truly do so without sharing major spoilers.
For the first 9/10ths of the book, I was planning to award The Creeping a single star. The plot plodded, the characters irritated me, and I wasn’t the least bit scared. Once I reached the ending, though…wow. I was completely unprepared, and that doesn’t happen often. I finally saw what Sirowy had been setting up for the entirety of the book, and she blew me away.
The storyline follows Stella Cambren, who’s something of a local celebrity in her hometown of Savage, Minnesota. At the age of 6, Stella and her best friend Jeanie disappeared from Jeanie’s front yard. Stella came back unharmed. Jeanie was never seen again.
Stella, apparently traumatized, retains no memory of what happened the day Jeanie vanished. In fact, she barely has any memories of Jeanie at all, just vague recollections of what she was like based on the stories of others. In the years following the disappearance, Stella does her best to put the past behind her and live a normal life. She does a decent job of it…at least until the body of another little girl is discovered the summer before Stella’s senior year. A little girl with hair that’s red like Jeanie’s was, and whose corpse just happens to show up on the anniversary of Jeanie’s disappearance.
This incident triggers something inside of Stella, and she begins to experience little flickers, flashing back to images of Jeanie on the day she disappeared. It’s not enough to completely restore Stella’s memory, but it is enough to freak her the hell out and inspire her to get to the bottom of the disappearance before any more people are victimized.
In order to solve the mystery, Stella is forced to rekindle her relationship with Sam Worth, her childhood sweetheart and another former companion of Jeanie’s. Together Sam and Stella struggle to piece together a picture of what really happened the day Jeanie vanished, poring over photographs from their childhood, delving into old newspaper clippings, and interviewing Jeanie’s creepy old neighbors.
The investigation leads Stella and Sam to some disturbing discoveries: animal sacrifices, tales of an ancient monster living in the Minnesota woods, unsolved cases of other little redheads disappearing from their homes. As spooky as this sounds, though, I actually wasn’t all that scared for the majority of the book. Probably because I spent most of my time either bored or annoyed. The pace is incredibly slow, which made it challenging to stay focused; I almost didn’t finish this book. The scraps of information Stella and Sam retrieve during their search for answers are so spread out, so hard to come by, that there were times it felt like nothing was happening. I suppose that’s not entirely true – there was romantic stuff developing between Stella and Sam – but I wasn’t really interested in that. Sam is great – sweet, nerdy, loyal, supportive – but he just didn’t light my fire, if you know what I mean.
Another thing that had me ready to give this book a 1-star rating was that I didn’t care much for Stella or her friends. They’re your typical high school dream team, popular and judgmental and mean. I especially loathed Stella’s best friend Zoey. I spent the entire book wanting to smack her across the face for being such a hateful, self-centered bitch. I wanted to smack Stella, too, for putting up with it and letting Zoey dictate her life.
But then…the ENDING! It changed everything for me. Though I may not have been scared for the majority of the book, I was definitely shaken up by the conclusion. The more I think back over the course of The Creeping, the more freaked out I get. Even as I write this review, all of the lights in my house are blazing, and I find myself jumping at the slightest noise.
Caleb and Daniel turning out to be the culprits behind Jeanie’s death was FAR more terrifying than a monster ever could have been. It was totally unexpected but totally believable, which was part of the horror; looking back, everything made sense, and you could easily see how the events of that fateful day had spun out of control. One line really stood out to me and gave me chills: “Jeanie wasn’t afraid of the things that tap at your window at night. She was afraid of the boy who lived in the bedroom down the hall.” And that’s a sad truth, isn’t it? We don’t need to dream up monsters. Human beings are frightening enough on their own.
Thank you, Alexandra Sirowy, for writing the first book in ages that has been able to catch me unaware AND scare the pants off of me. This story is going to stick with me for a long time, and I have a feeling that it’s going to be a while before I’m able to fall asleep without a nightlight again.