Monday, June 26, 2017

From the Farm of Bitterness

Review: Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart


Limpy's lot is not a happy one; like Jerusha Bromley in Michener's Hawaii, she seeks escape from a family potato farm where she toils without respect or appreciation. The girl's daily duties include all the cooking and cleaning, plus grading potatoes, bagging them, stitching the bags shut, and toting them down into the cool, dry cellar for storage. 

At school, she supplements her ordinary education with Internet research. If only the local art academy will accept her project, a fabric-art portrait of the town where she attends public school, she can escape. 

The farm is poor; Limpy's materials are limited to potato bags, twine, and her own boundless imagination. But sewing time is always being stolen from her. Bullies at school eat into her library stitching schedule, then punishments at home rob her of time to work on her art project, and she worries she won't be able to finish by the impending deadline.

It doesn't help that the farm is being foreclosed on, or that the deadline comes right in the middle of harvest time. The last thing Limpy needs on top of all that is a high-maintenance pet like Chup, a fluffy yellow critter who hatched from an egg she found buried in the cool, dark soil floor of the potato cellar—let alone six more trouble-making hatchlings that begin as needy youngsters, but rapidly become monsters.

At first, seeing this novel presented in the Kindle Scout list, I was reminded of Gremlins. Cute critters, fuzzy, turn into monsters... Yeah, those elements are all there. But Stewart's novel is no comic-book tale of cutesiness-turned-evil, it is deeper than that. Limpy's need to face her fear that she will fail is about to be woven into the fears of all around her, family and friends, even previous owners of the potato farm. 

The story is engaging, and Limpy herself is delightful. As for Chup and his brother-fuzzies, you won't believe what they turn out to be. But finding out for yourself won't take long; like many such delicious tales, it is a quick read. 

You won't want to put it down until you know if Limpy escapes the farm and her fate.