THE CREEK by Jennifer L. Holm encompasses many things. It is a psychological thriller, but it is also a coming of age story. It is the story of a sleepy suburban town, but it is also the story of a young girl named Penny. Most of all, THE CREEK shows that not everything is strictly black or white. Instead, there are shades of gray. Even the most well-meaning person can do something horrific. Sometimes, the loss of innocence is horrifying in itself.
Penny and her family moved to a new town a few years ago. Her father, a doctor, and her mother, young and well-liked by her kids and neighbors, are really good parents. Her brothers are younger than she is, Teddy being only a few years her junior and Sam being a baby. Before they moved there, a kid named Caleb terrorized the town. He was rumored to have killed animals as well as other kids and rigged accidents in which people were severely if not mortally wounded. He was sent away for years.
The story starts with Penny and her friends on a summer afternoon. Everything seems well and normal. That is, until Penny spots Caleb, who has returned to town.
As various pets go missing, the tension rises and the accusations begin to fly. In spite of their parents' instance that they not go into the woods and not go to the creek, Penny, Teddy and their friends continue to hang out in their fort. The neighborhood's traditional softball games and block parties which used to be so safe and happy become shattered by tragedies. The routines that they used to have are now plagued by loss and fear.
What is wrong? What is right? WHO is right? Penny struggles with these moral questions while simply trying to stay a kid and the only girl in a group of boys. She fights the changes that are happening to her, to her friends, and to her town. This is the summer that Penny turns thirteen. This is the summer that she is forced to grow up.
THE CREEK has a very interesting take on gossip gone wrong. It incorporates growing up with childhood fears - which, perhaps, aren't so childish after all. Each character had a distinct personality, especially Penny, the heart of the story. The point is never about redemption. Holm does not make Caleb have an emotional breakdown. He never begs and pleads to be forgiven. The point is, shall we say, much sharper than that.
One of the best things about this novel is that it can take place in Anytown, USA and in nearly any of the past five decades. More and more teen books make too many references to show how hip they are, but by the time the book is published, what was hot a few months ago is now cold, and the mentions make the work feel dated.
I highly recommend this novel. I look forward to reading other books by Holm. If you enjoyed THE CREEK, try Friction by E.R. Frank and The Crucible by Arthur Miller, both of which deal with hysteria within a community.
The Creek was listed as a recommended read in the January 2009 issue of readergirlz.
Read the first chapter at The Creek website.