Dean Marney – The Jack-O’-Lantern That Ate My Brother (1994)

Review by Justin Tate

Bizarre kid horror that I somehow missed in the ’90s. Love that there’s a whole series of books where holiday icons eat family members. Up next are titles like The Turkey That Ate My Father and The Christmas Tree That Ate My Mother.

One might expect a wacky story about a killer pumpkin on the loose, but in actuality it’s more bonkers than that.

Marney has little regard for coherency, preferring to take the reader on an unbelievable journey that gets crazier and crazier with each page. Best of all, our kid narrator Lizzie just goes with it. She’s as unbelievable as the plot, but her attitude and nonchalance make it fun. She does cry and scream a lot. Yet most of the time she’s just rolling with the punches. And in this case, the punches include Medusa-inspired witches, floating houses in the sky, shadows with a mind of their own, the manifestation of self-doubt, and, yes, a child-consuming pumpkin.

Most would assume this book was a knockoff cash-in on Goosebumps popularity. Not quite! Dean Marney had sibling-eating objects all the way back in 1987 with The Computer That Ate My Brother. That’s a whole five years before the first Goosebumps book.

By now we can safely describe The Jack-O’-Lantern That Ate My Brother as a ‘deep cut’ from the depths of ’90s pre-teen horror. It existed, it was popular, but not something to make a monument over. The writing is good, but the story is so all-over-the-place that it’s difficult to evaluate even within the space of juvenile chapter books. I do see how it might be a gateway into other forms of literary bizarro, however. There’s probably a lot of ’90s kid horror freaks out there who blame this book for their lifelong obsession with the genre.

Had I read it in ’94, I doubt it would have swayed me from die-hard allegiance to Stine, but for sure I would have loved it.

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