The Belly Crawlers
by Farah Velez

"When their eyes met the source of the hum, they saw a set of human eyes staring at them from the storm drain."

In the town of Jerridale, people are disappearing. Fern's father is among the missing, and one night she decides to investigate the strange stories surrounding the sewer system near an abandoned factory in town. She begins to believe the answer to the mystery of her father's disappearance may lie beneath the streets. But to find the truth, she must face her fears and confront the creatures the townspeople say live down below. Her classmates tell her that there are not just rats under the factory but also belly crawlers reaching up from the sewers that snatch people. However, what she finds is even more terrifying than anything she imagined.

Velez quickly establishes an eerie, foreboding mood with the talk of disappearances and creepy urban myths. Young readers who like scary stories will find Fern's underground adventure perfectly unsettling. The chills and thrills are age-appropriate, and the tale arrives at its spine-tingling target quickly, even as it builds suspense. When the belly crawlers reveal themselves in all their slithering glory, readers will move to the edge of their seats in angst over the uncertainty of Fern's getaway and safety.

The author also incorporates Fern's emotional life as she struggles with her mother's neglect and grief for her father. This strongly developed main character confronts the difficulties of growing up with determination and courage. Readers will gladly follow strong-willed Fern—but perhaps with their eyes closed—as she lifts the cover of a manhole and descends rung by rung down the ladder into the darkness below. The conclusion is followed by a series of moving black and white illustrations that animate the story's action and the themes of distress and fear of the unknown.

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