Horror Collector: The Faceless Kid Light Novel Review

Horror Collector: The Faceless Child Mild Novel Overview

Middle-grade fiction can be an unlikely repository for some of the most interesting books published today. From authors like Esme Symes-Smith and Alex Gino, who explore LGBTQIA+ themes, to the grande dame of horror Mary Downing Hahn, the genre range is wide, and the intended audience deceptive, at least when it comes to the appeal of the works. Yen Press’ new initiative in translating light novels written for this demographic is, therefore, an interesting chance to see how universal the trend is. While Midori Sato and Norio Tsuruta‘s Horror Collector isn’t a perfect example of what middle-grade horror can do, it’s still a good read that makes solid use of urban legends.

Written as a series of interconnected short stories, each chapter in the book takes place in a different town. The one thing linking all of them is a persistent tale about a mysterious child, the so-called “faceless kid.” According to the rumors, this fifth or sixth grader of uncertain gender wears either a red or a black hoodie, and beneath the hood is only a smooth oval of skin – no face. As the book goes on, a boy who appears to be in the sixth grade wearing a red hoodie shows up in each chapter, and with each appearance, we get a little more information. By the end, we know his name and what he’s doing. This is where a little more clarification for younger readers, whose first experience with a light novel this might be, and possibly with Japanese fiction in general, would have been helpful: the boy’s name is Fushigi Senno. This name has a bearing on his true nature, or at least his position within the story. But without knowing what “fushigi” means, some of that is lost, and it risks being a funny-sounding word.

That is, however, one of the few places where specialized knowledge is required. Each of the urban legends that form the basis for the chapters is perfectly understandable, even if there isn’t an international equivalent, and the final chapter, “Little Nanoka,” is specifically written to be a Japanese version of the American Slenderman. That’s interesting in its own right, and series supervisor Norio Tsuruta says in his afterword that the format was inspired by the American TV show “The Fugitive,” which he watched growing up. He envisions the series as a supernatural variation on the theme, with the underlying possibility that Fushigi could appear in your town at any time.

Each chapter focuses on a different set of characters, not all of whom make it out of their stories alive. It’s about fifty-fifty in terms of character survival, and that’s a good ratio for the intended audience. Much American middle-grade horror, such as that written by Dan Poblocki, Mary Downing Hahn, and Delilah S. Dawson, sticks to a similar math. However, in nearly all of those authors’ works, it’s due to an interaction between a living child and a dead one. There aren’t necessarily ghosts at play (although “Sugisawa Village” does toy with that idea), but rather monsters. The most effective ones are those of human creation – “Sugisuwa Village” and “Love Spells” both use this idea very well. “The Truth About the Red Crayon,” on the other hand, is the most classic horror piece, using a haunted house as its base, while “Little Nanoka,” “The Bizarre Cat,” and “The Wriggler” stick to creepypasta territory.

“Sugisuwa Village” and “The Truth About the Red Crayon” are the strongest of the stories. This is ultimately because both chapters trust their readers to be able to handle the content; a few of the others feel like they pull their punches, although in the case of “Little Nanoka,” they are deceptive. In both stories, the plot relies on a sense of creeping terror, slowly building the realization that something is very wrong with the situations the characters find themselves in. It works better in “Sugisuwa Village,” primarily because it’s the longest (or one of the longest) pieces in the book, so it has time to build, but also because it relies on the main character’s father making a series of decisions she feels are wrong. As the child, she’s in no position to contradict him or her older brother, adding to the dread slowly building. “The Truth About the Red Crayon,” on the other hand, relies more on the sort of detail that makes fair play mysteries enjoyable, and it’s up to the reader to put the pieces together to figure out what’s going on in the heroine’s new house.

Although this is marketed as middle grade, it’s on the lower end of the scale, closer to chapter books in content and vocabulary. For adult readers, that makes it a quicker read, but if you give it to a younger reader, just know their tolerance for creepiness. This will feel insufficiently scary for some kids, but for others, a couple of the tales could be very frightening. It’s no Wait till Helen Comes or Mine, but that does make it a good fit for a kid who likes creepy books but doesn’t like flat-out scary ones.

Horror Collector may not be the best middle-grade/chapter book horror has to offer, but it’s still a fun read. With a couple of genuinely standout chapters and an interesting overarching plot, it’s an easy choice for a reader just getting into horror fiction and a fun diversion for older readers who want something quick, easy, and focused on urban legends. It’s entertaining; sometimes that’s all a book needs to be.

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