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Book: “Long Live the Pumpkin Queen” by Shea Ernshaw
Publishing Info: Disney Press, August 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.
Book Description: Jack and Sally are “truly meant to be” … or are they?
Sally Skellington is the official, newly-minted Pumpkin Queen after a whirlwind courtship with her true love, Jack, who Sally adores with every inch of her fabric seams — if only she could say the same for her new role as Queen of Halloween Town. Cast into the spotlight and tasked with all sorts of queenly duties, Sally can’t help but wonder if all she’s done is trade her captivity under Dr. FInkelstein for a different — albeit gilded — cage. But when Sally and Zero accidentally uncover a long-hidden doorway to an ancient realm called Dream Town in the forest Hinterlands, she’ll unknowingly set into motion a chain of sinister events that put her future as Pumpkin Queen, and the future of Halloween Town itself, into jeopardy. Can Sally discover what it means to be true to herself and save the town she’s learned to call home, or will her future turn into her worst… well, nightmare.
Review: Thank you to Disney Press for giving me an ARC of this novel!
This will come as a shock to absolutely no one, but when I was in high school I was obsessed with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” like any good Goth kid was. I loved the aesthetic, I loved the story, and I LOVED Sally Ragdoll, Jack Skellington’s love interest (voiced by the iconic Catherine O’Hara). As much as I love her, she admittedly doesn’t have a lot to do in the movie outside of being a sweet romantic foil who sees the downside to Jack’s Christmas vision. When I heard that Shea Ernshaw had written a new YA dark fantasy called “Long Live the Pumpkin Queen”, which starred Sally after her marriage to Jack, I was nervous. I like Ernshaw’s work, but Sally is near and dear to my heart. When it was available at ALA, I picked it up, and on my first day of post conference isolation I decided to read it. And read it I did. In one sitting. This is the exact kind of story a Sally Ragdoll lover wants to have in their life.
Shea Ernshaw has created a dark fairytale that has Sally at the very center of it. After marrying Jack and becoming the Pumpkin Queen of Halloween Town, Sally is uncomfortable in her new role as she doesn’t know how well she fits in in a role that she never thought she would have. It’s a great story for this character, given that the movie is really about Jack and his identity crisis. Why not put Sally in the spotlight and have her have to grapple with her identity? Pretty early on we establish her discomfort with her standing, and then we give her a journey of her own outside of Halloween Town that has her grappling with not only a threat upon Jack and all of Halloween Town, but also with what she thought she knew about herself and who she is. I loved seeing Sally have some agency here, and seeing her go on a journey that puts her in a position of being the hero without having to worry about being relegated to damsel in distress. It is a very satisfying plot for this character, that allows her to stand on her own and to flesh her out from her original role. Again, I love Sally in the movie. I related a lot to Sally back in the day. But this version of Sally does a good job of expanding upon that character while staying true to the things that make her endearing.
Ernshaw also creates some new worlds and mythologies here that fit in perfectly with the source material. For one, we get to explore a new holiday town, as Jack and Sally take their honeymoon in Valentine’s Town. The way this town is described is so effortlessly charming and adorable, with sweet confections and flowers and cherubs dazzling the two weirdos from Halloween Town, as well as creating a version of a ‘queen’ that influences Sally’s perception of what that means. We also find ourselves in a strange new place called Dream Town, which is the center of our conflict, as Sally inadvertently releases something from that realm that puts Halloween Town, and all the other realms, in danger. The way that Ernshaw creates this town and the magical systems that surround it, and how they connect to the other realms and the real world, reads like a dark fairy tale with well thought out working parts. It also feels like it can all fit into Tim Burton’s original visions of these worlds and how they relate to each other.
And yes, romantics, while this is Sally’s story, there are plenty of lovely, sweet moments between her and her husband, Jack Skellington. The sweet romance and love between these two characters always makes me smile, and Ernshaw definitely does justice for the couple. Jack just adores Sally, and her love for him is palpable, and given that they were one of my earliest ships I was VERY happy with how these two were written and how their relationship is portrayed.
As a huge “Nightmare Before Christmas” fan, I was very satisfied with “Long Live the Pumpkin Queen”. Sally has always deserved her own moment in the spotlight, and Ernshaw really delivered. I grabbed this with trepidation, but now I’m holding onto it and will certainly be revisiting in the future.
Rating 9: As someone who loves “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and Sally Ragdoll, this was just terrific.
“Long Live the Pumpkin Queen” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit right in on “Dark Fairy Tales”.