this might be the only horror novel in the world to feature the word “amazeballs” on its final page.
despite that claim to fame, this book wasn’t as spooky as its cover, and the following paragraph is a perfect example of what made this such a frustrating read for me:
“Have I ever told you about my grandmother?” he says.
My mouth purses, and I shake my head once.
“My grandma, my dad’s mother, used to scare us kids to bed with stories when she visited us in Florida. She grew up here, in these woods.” He’s quiet for a full minute, eyes focused on the space behind me, head tilted like he’s watching phantoms play on the wall. Then he sighs. “How much do you know about Minnesota’s history?”
“We studied state history freshman year,” I say, letting my own thoughts stray from this frustrating beige room. I can still feel the warmth of Sam’s knees grazing my lower back as he sat behind me in class. I fake smiled at him every time he spoke to me in Mr. Flint’s fifth period, but it made something quiver deep in me when his jeans touched the inch of bare skin between my waistband and shirt’s hem.
and then it continues to recount historical myths about minnesota’s monsters and cannibalism.
so: we have the perfect setup; the “i’m about to drop some spooky shit on you, girl” scenario, with its traditional horror-genre pacing and the stalling for the benefit of the reader; the pause for distant gazing and sighing because “it’s just too much to even talk about but imma do it anyway” and then, right when it’s about to get all cool and cannibally, stella-the-listener just drifts off into daydreams and we have to read her reminiscences about how in some class two years ago, she used to get all shivery from feeling a guy’s jeans rub her back. way to kill the mood, stella. and it’s not even a situation where she’s fantasizing about the speaker himself, getting lost in his eyes as he tells her a story that’s making her heart race with fear which transitions into a heart racing with lust, which would be annoying but somewhat excusable, but NO—she’s just off in the clouds in the middle of what should be a gripping tale with some actual relevance to what’s happening all around her. so apart from “pay attention stella, jeez,” it also messes with the reader who is trying to get caught up in a horror novel but keeps getting ripped out and plopped in a romance novel.
there’s tons of people who will dig this—if you like it when shared supernatural adventures bring couples together because—comfort, then you’ll probably be more into this than i was. i like my horror to be the kind where no one has any interest in lovemaking because they’re covered in someone else’s blood. or where no one’s left alive to snuggle. however, i will say that in this book, at least stella is a proactive heroine type and it’s not the “i’m so scared, quarterback hunk, let me fling myself into your bravery-arms!” brand of horror-romance.
regardless, all the breaks for pining and sexual tension kept ruining the murder/recovered memory tension for me which is a shame because there was such potential here. it has all the parts you need to make good horror: small town with long memories, mysterious disappearances, amnesia, recurring patterns of violence, animal sacrifices, unsettling folklore, intense friendships, etc and sirowy does a really great job keeping the reader seesawing between not knowing whether we’re looking at a supernatural or a human explanation for the situation and sowing the seeds of ambiguity and general weirdness. i loved the descriptions of the town’s…decorative reaction to what was happening, and i wish there had been a little more about that because i don’t know if that’s a common midwestern practice? it sounds more new englandy to me, but it set up an attitude/response i wanted a rounder explanation for.
because of its strengths and because i was desperate for a horror book to do its job during spooky season, i was willing to overlook so much—how free the police were in sharing information about ongoing and cold case investigations with local teenagers, the fact that there are no adults in this book and how stella especially is left alone overnight so frequently, despite what’s going on in town and the physical and psychological stress it’s having on her. it’s hard to reconcile how a father who is presented as busy and distracted but also wonderful in every other way would choose to stay away all night at the office knowing there’s a police detail posted outside his house for his daughter’s safety. i’m pretty sure my own wonderful dad would consider “police detail” a handy backup plan, but would be on the front stoop with a sixer and a shotgun because cops are great and all, but it’s a parent’s job to protect their young. i was even able to overlook (although it was really squinty) the use of “epically random” on page 128, which is wrong on at least three levels, ruining the tone being the least of them.
the final explanation was fine on most of its points, although there are a few key things i don’t understand:View Spoiler »
*how mrs. talcott could have ensured stella would have amnesia about the incident. unless you’re administering roofies, you can’t be confident a child won’t remember what happened right in front of her, especially when it is super memorable.
* why was stella supposed to stay with jeanie again? so they could find her when they came back? i understand that freaked out 9 year old boys and a traumatized 6 year old girl are not thinking clearly, but where in the woods were they that there was a danger of them not being able to find her again, since they were always playing in there and it should have been familiar territory? how were stella and jeanie going to get home if jeanie hadn’t been shot? if the boys were already calling for jeanie and daniel’s mother within stella’s earshot, they couldn’t have been so far in that there’d be a need to leave stella behind or that together the three of them couldn’t have just carried jeanie out.
and honestly you cannot get mad about one of y’all being shot when you’re trespassing on the property of an old lady living alone deep in the woods. that’s on you « Hide Spoiler
so, not a scary book, but not a waste of time. you may find it amazeballs.