July 30, 2019

Book Review - Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe by Josh Allen

Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe

by Josh Allen
illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman

Genres: Middle Grade (ages 8-12), Fiction, Short Stories, Scary, Paranormal, Ghost Stories
Publisher: Holiday House
Length: 176 pages
Published: September 3, 2019
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Thirteen ordinary kids. Thirteen ordinary towns. Danger lurks around every corner . . . where spooky things are hiding in plain sight.

Get ready for a collection of thirteen short stories that will chill your bones, tingle your spine, and scare your pants off. Debut author Josh Allen masterfully concocts horror in the most innocent places, like R.L. Stine meets a modern Edgar Allan Poe. A stray kitten turns into a threatening follower. The street sign down the block starts taunting you. Even your own shadow is out to get you!

The everyday world is full of sinister secrets and these page-turning stories show that there's darkness even where you least expect it. Readers will sleep with one eye open . . .

Thirteen eerie full-page illustrations by award-winning artist Sarah J. Coleman accompany the tales in this frightful mashup that reads like a contemporary Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark."

My Book Review:

Josh Allen's collection of scary short stories, Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe, is exactly what is middle-grade readers need right now. While great detective mysteries, graphic novels, and comic stories abound, really entertaining short stories that have the power to immediately captivate audiences and have even non-readers coming back for more have been missing: Out to Get You is the book we've been waiting for, just in time for Halloween.

Growing up, I had books like R.L. Stine's classic Goosebumps series and Alvin Schwartz's even creepier Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to haunt my sleepovers (Stephen Gammell's Scary Story illustrations still give me the shivers). Allen delivers what modern kid audiences have long needed.

In Out to Get You, Allen successfully proves he can capture readers' attentions in just a few lines, drawing them in to well-written stories of the odd, paranormal, unexplained, and horrifying. Twist-endings, dramatic irony, and characters' nightmares come to life and each story is a page-turner, engaging and delighting with "weirdness and woe." It's difficult to pick a favorite, but a couple contenders would be "When Daunted Vanished, They Said He Moved to Ohio" (a tale wherein a boy gets to pick the devil's brain) and "The Color of Ivy" that will make me think twice before writing on my hand in pen ever again. Below is a short synopsis of each of the thirteen tales.


After school one day, best friends Jacob and Jakob walk home and brainstorm how to write a scary story for a homework assignment. They invent “The Vanishers” and what horrifying things these monsters are capable of doing to their unwilling, child victims.

"Nine Lives"

Miranda’s mom gets fed up with the messes her cat, Licorice, keeps making. When Miranda doesn’t stick up for her feline friend, she learns what it means when they say cats have nine lives.

"The Stain on the Cafeteria Floor"

Malia and her klutzy friend, Janet, discover a weird stain on the cafeteria floor. Even weirder, the stain swallows dimes and turkey sandwiches whole, growing bigger and bigger. Janet wants to get help, but Malia wants to keep it a secret.

"When Daunte Vanished, They Said He Moved to Ohio"

This story has a great, most attention-grabbing first line. The plot: Daunte Frederick Coleman gets to meet the devil and ask him three questions.

"The Color of Ivy"

Ivy finds a sparkly, greenish-black marker and instead of turning it in to the lost and found, she uses it to draw an ivy with her name. But Ivy doesn’t just draw her name on a piece of paper--she draws in on her hand--and soon the marker starts drawing for her.

"Neat-o Burrito"

Matt feels like a fool after he says the words “neato-burrito” to his crush, Caroline Spencer. On his way home from school, he finds a magic lamp and a genie who can grant him one wish, but something about the genie makes Matt worry he’s in for trouble.


Every day when they walk to school, Owen races his older sister, Hannah, up a hill in front of a school-crossing sign. Every day, Hannah wins. When Owen takes a closer look at the sign, he notices something unusual about the boy and girl on it.

"The Voice"

Cindy Watson’s teacher, Mrs. Huber, has mastered how to use a particular voice when yelling at her students to get them to listen to her. Cindy wants Mrs. Huber’s power to end.

"Goodbye, Ridgecrest Middle School"

One day when washing his hands in the bathroom wondering when he’ll ever stop mixing up his teachers’ names (Mr. Johansen and Mr. Johnson), a scary message is dispensed onto Wally's paper towel, warning him that he only has two days left.

"Mighty Comfy"

Heidi’s dad picks up a couch someone has left by the side of the road. While he’s excited to sit on it and watch old cowboy movies, Heidi’s worried about where it came from.

"Sorry, Froggy"

It’s frog-dissection day in biology class. Brady couldn’t be more excited, but Julia thinks Brady needs to learn a lesson.

"Staring Contest"

Livvy and her dad have just moved two-hundred miles to an old house in need of a lot of repair. For Livvy’s dad this is a dream come true, but Livvy feels like the house is watching her.

"The Shadow Curse"

Mason has had a month to do his book report, but on the morning it’s due he still hasn’t started. When it’s his turn to stand in front of the class to give his presentation, Mason invents the story of "The Shadow Curse," but his classmates and teacher aren’t the only ones listening.

I highly recommend Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe for any middle-grade reader (ages 8-12). It's just the right balance of creepy mystery and fun intrigue, without ever crossing a line to draw discomfort from teachers, parents, and librarians. My one hope is that the publisher will realize what a great book this is and quickly turn it into a series.

If you still need another reason to order Josh Allen's book, the glow-in-the-dark hardcover should seal the deal for you. Though I received a paperback advanced reader's copy from the publisher, I've seen (and tested) the glow-in-the-dark cover in person and let me tell you, it was pretty cool.

Advanced reader's copy received from the publisher.

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