Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism Review
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When I was a child, I attended Sunday school classes every week. There, in some chilly room in the church basement, our teacher would tell us stories about Noah and Jonah and other men and women from the Bible, often illustrating the stories with cut-out characters on a felt board. I always enjoyed those stories—but they never came to life quite like the stories in author Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s haunting novella, Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism.

When Father Gaetano first arrives at the Church of San Domenico, he’s understandably overwhelmed by his new responsibilities. Not only will he be serving as the Sicilian village’s only priest, but he’ll also be overseeing the orphanage and trying to bring God’s love and peace to the children who lost their families in World War II.

As the young priest settles into his duties, he worries that his catechism lessons aren’t getting through to the children. So when he discovers a box full of long-discarded puppets in the basement, he decides to make use of them. At first, the experiment is an overwhelming success. But Father Gaetano soon discovers that, by repurposing the puppets and bringing them into his classroom, he’s awakened something dark and mysterious.

Like the children’s magical puppets, Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism isn’t what it seems at first glance. In the beginning, it appears to be a simple but touching drama about a young priest who’s called to help care for a group of children who have lost everything. Father Gaetano is a likable character—one who’s moved by the children’s circumstances and determined to restore their faith by bringing them a message of love, peace, and hope. He’s devoted to his role in both the community and the orphanage—and he’ll do anything in his power to return the smiles on the children’s faces.

Just when the children’s fears and doubts seem to be close to consuming them, the puppets seem like the perfect distraction. But when Father Gaetano begins recreating the puppets and using them for his own purposes, the story takes a surprisingly dark and haunting turn. And what starts out as a sweet little story about kids’ catechism classes becomes an eerie tale of mysterious little creatures with lives of their own.

Coming from the guy who created Hellboy, though, this novella doesn’t turn dark as quickly as expected. While the story is filled with hints of something more ominous to come, the story’s true nature doesn’t really reveal itself until well into the book. On one hand, that gives this short read plenty of suspense, but it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the truly chilling parts of the story.

Meanwhile, instead of focusing on the story at hand, the authors sometimes wander off into subplots that seem unnecessary—especially for such a short novel. Instead of touching on Father Gaetano’s personal struggles, those pages may have been better spent exploring the central story—and answering a few nagging questions.

Still, there’s something about the subtle chills of Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism that makes it all the more intriguing. So if you’re looking for a short, eerie read, it’s worth picking up.

Listen to the review on Shelf Discovery:

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