By Graham Joyce (Faber and Faber; 2006)
The late Graham Joyce was one of the greatest writers on the scene, and this young adult thriller aptly demonstrates why.
DO THE CREEPY THING doesn’t read at all like a typical YA product. In fact, it’s fully up to the standards of Joyce’s grown-up books, graced as it is with the type of superbly lyrical prose and storytelling ingenuity that distinguishes all his finest work.
As with Joyce classics like THE TOOTH FAIRY and THE FACTS OF THE LIFE, DO THE CREEPY THING is a supernatural-tinged coming of age story. The subject is Caz, a normal teenager with a wild streak that manifests itself in the “Creepy Thing,” a game of sorts she plays with her friend Lucy that involves breaking into peoples’ homes in the middle of the night and standing over them as they sleep. That this is a bad idea goes without saying, although the instrument of Caz’s comeuppance is a most unexpected one: a curse bequeathed by the latest victim of the Creepy Thing, a bitter old woman who awakens during the process and slaps a bracelet on Caz’s wrist.
The bracelet falls off but leaves in its place a tattoo. Caz becomes determined to get rid of the tattoo, for which she’ll need money. She and Lucy go to work in a sleazy pub, a development that amply demonstrates Joyce’s unmatched talent for blending the real and the fantastic: Caz’s bracelet tattoo is obviously a flight of fancy, as are the extra-sensory powers it bequeaths, but the gritty details of her job at the pub are far from fanciful…though just as compelling.
The story’s ultimate arc provides further evidence of Graham Joyce’s brilliance in its drift from horror toward a sense of contentment and acceptance on the part of its steadily maturing heroine, who learns to use her supernatural powers to her advantage. The final pages admittedly aren’t as satisfying as they could be: for all his undeniable brilliance, Joyce often had trouble with his endings, and Caz’s ultimate acts (hint: they involve a reprise of the Creepy Thing) feel odd and unconvincing.
Another problem is with the American retitling of this novel: it’s called THE EXCHANGE, a moniker that’s vastly inferior to DO THE CREEPY THING, the title under which this novel originated and deserves to be known.