Empty Eyes (Spine Chillers #4) by Nancy Gray
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: October 26, 2018
I came to this book because my son has been reading nothing but Goosebumps lately. Both my spouse and my best friend have nodded their heads at this new development with a knowing, “Oh, yes. I remember those! I was obsessed with them!” I’m getting the feeling I missed something in my childhood.
Memories of my elementary years might be fuzzy in places, but I can only assume Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? freaked me out enough to steer me away from the horror genre until after high school. Perhaps now I’m out to find those books I wish I could pass back to my younger self. (Look, if a time travel machine is ever invented, I want to be prepared. First, avert historical worldwide disasters. Second, make middle school me a better reader.)
Or in the more practical short-term, I wouldn’t mind having a repertoire of middle grade books to recommend when this Goosebumps phase runs its course. And so here I am with a copy of Empty Eyes by Nancy Gray, the fourth book in the Spine Chillers series.
First off, while the book does make references to previous events, it also grounds the reader well. Whether this is your first encounter with Ian or you know him well already, you’ll find yourself comfortably following along on his journey. (Which is always preferable to the book metaphorically grabbing the reader by the shoulders and shouting, “Whoa, now, sonny! Slow down. There’s some backstory I gotta lay out before we get any further.”)
The plot opens with Ian running into an abandoned house to escape some bullies and finding two kids with “shark-like” eyes who chase the bullies off in exchange for Ian’s friendship. Ian, to his credit, is skeptical of this arrangement, but his fear of being beaten up understandably leads to some rash decisions. As the story continues, Ian finds himself in scary situations, not quite remembering all his actions, and facing a darker side of himself he’d prefer not to think about.
Overall, I found the book kept the plot flowing well, holding up the suspense, and it had some nice moments of introspection for Ian, too. The adults did need to handle the idiot ball a little bit for the story to work, mostly in treating things as far less of a deal than they really were. I can’t blame the book too much for this, since the entire point of kid lit is for the kid to have agency, and that isn’t really possible if parents are overprotective (or even protective at all, in some cases.) I was able to suspend my disbelief well enough.
I will put up the disclaimer that the book does go darker than Goosebumps. R.L. Stine’s books have a habit of threatening characters without actual harm or putting them into off-screen danger. A few characters in Empty Eyes suffer serious injury in front of Ian, one to the point that Ian worries if he’s witnessing the kid die. That might be a little heavy for younger readers.
Overall, this series seems to be a solid introduction to the horror genre. If you’ve got some younger readers in your life, it’s worth giving a try.
You can find Empty Eyes on Goodreads
You can buy Empty Eyes on Amazon