#8 – The Losing Christina Series, by Caroline B. Cooney
Caroline B. Cooney has received a number of awards for her work, and has cemented herself as a master of horror for young readers. The Losing Christina series was my first foray into Cooney’s work, and the beginning of a lifelong obsession with psychological horror. These were the books that taught me I didn’t need a monster to inspire fear – human beings are perfectly terrifying all on their own. Although I remember the days when these books were just called the Fog, the Snow, and the Fire, #8 on our list is Losing Christina.
These books seemed monumental to me the first time I read them. Absolutely earth shattering. The agony and terror I felt with Christina as together we watched her friend, Anya, slipping slowly into madness was very, very quiet, but the words that it whispered left chills up and down my spine. The theme just felt so adult, especially as it revolved around children who were (at the time) as young as I was. The sense of helplessness and abject frustration was maddening – this wasn’t like a normal monster story. There was no easily vanquished foe. Even when it becomes clear that the Shevingtons are creating the scenarios that drive the girls into insanity, torturing them with subtle, quiet acts, there is still no solution. This is a child’s world, remember – how can young Christina convince anyone that her respectable hosts have systematically broken Anya’s mind, especially when her own sanity is now in question?
So far in question, in fact, that Christina begins to wonder if she might be crazy after all.
There is just something so real about the fear these children feel – they are away from home, away from their families, for the very first time, isolated in a hostile environment where they know nothing and no one. Any one who can remember being a child knows that in that scenario, you don’t need to add in a monster. There’s one already there, breathing down the child’s neck, completely invisible. Coney’s wonderful writing seals the deal. She traps you deep inside the mind of her protagonist, so that you feel all her pain and uncertainty along with you. She is a steady point in a constantly shifting world.
When Christina is losing herself, you’re losing her too. And it’s terrifying. For that reason, even though I’m not sure the Shevingtons can be called creatures in the traditional sense of the word, Losing Christina has solidly claimed its spot on my list.