Is this a “kid’s” novel? I suppose, technically, it is. It’s to be found in the kid’s section, the size and language are accessible to most kids, and the main character is a young boy. However, it is written in the Gothic-style that Bellairs is known for. Reading along, you do feel that Bellairs was influenced by Lovecraft. I find Lovecraftian influences everywhere, by the way.
There are several elements that are great about this novel. The first is the Lovecraftian-horror-Gothic style. I love it. And nowadays children are not supposed to read such things. Their "literature" is sanitized and factory-produced. Bellairs’ novels have this macabre feeling to them that is just not "okay" with the yuppie-parenting of today. I don’t have any offspring, but if I did, I would definitely have this on their bookshelves. It is not grossly horrific. It is not filthy. It’s just creepy and Lovecraftian and excellent for rainy autumn nights.
The second element which I absolutely love (and which also makes the novel "unacceptable" for children) is the element of religion. Bellairs is a graduate of Notre Dame and University of Chicago. He was most likely Roman Catholic. And Johnny Dixon is too. And I absolutely approve of the way religion is written in this novel.
The main character is so interesting and the reader loves empathizing with the kid. He’s an honest kid – neither impossibly awesome, nor pathetically lame. He’s real, which might be why he is so relate-able. Authors need to learn how to write like Bellairs – everything so smooth and yet, so meaningful. Macabre and not gross. Honest, but yet a good yarn. I hear this is not really Bellairs greatest work – I cannot wait to read more and really be wow-ed by J. Bellairs.