by Robin Wasserman
To be published by Knopf BFYR
on September 10, 2013
Source: e-ARC from the publisher for review. Please see my full FTC disclosure on right sidebar.
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Summary from Goodreads: They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn't even know why she killed—or whether she'll do it again. Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander's, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who's not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves.My take: I'm not as big a horror reader as I used to be, but I'm very happy that there have been so many great YA horror books in the last year or two, books like The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepard, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle, and Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. I'm even more thrilled that none of these writers have offered up watered-down "horror lite" for young adult readers.
I'm pleased to say that I think Robin Wasserman's The Waking Dark is another great example of YA horror. She's written an atmospheric, creepy, bloody story of murders and madness in a small Kansas town, crimes which, as Truman Capote described in another story of mass murder in Kansas, "stimulated fires of mistrust in which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers. "
The Waking Dark opens dramatically, as a teenage boy narrowly survives a massacre in the town drugstore. In fact, murders are taking place across the town of Oleander, as seemingly normal citizens turn on one another for no apparent reason. When the killing spree winds down, the town buries its dead, locks the only surviving perpetrator in a mental hospital, and tries to go on. But when a tornado seems to be causing madness to swirl though the streets again, the town is quarantined, and a group of kids is determined to get to the bottom of what's going on.
These kids are an unlikely bunch: the son of a crazed man who preaches the gospel on street corners, a girl who thinks that God speaks directly to her, the black sheep daughter of a group of trailer-park dwelling meth makers, one of the murderers, and the sister of one of the victims. Together, they piece together what's going on and try to stop it. (I guessed pretty easily the why of the sudden madness, but I didn't figure out the how.)
I always have mixed feelings about multiple points of view in YA books. While I appreciate the way the technique allows a broader scope of storytelling, I also find it harder to connect with the characters when I'm constantly being put in the head of a different one. Then again, there was no point in getting attached to any of these characters. I was never sure who was going to die unexpectedly, who was going to suddenly turn evil, who was going to pair off romantically. To me, Jule was by far the most well-developed -- and thus, most interesting -- character, a tough teenage girl from a family of meth cookers. The characters with more conventional families came off far blander.
But overall, The Waking Dark does a great job of sketching life in a small town, showing us residents from all walks of life, from football heroes to eccentric old women to town outcasts. The Waking Dark also raises interesting questions about human nature. Can madness be induced? Would you be able to retain your humanity in the face of mass chaos and insanity? As the townspeople of Olender searched for answers, I began to wonder if they were being driven crazy by the power of suggestion, like the characters in The Crucible, or by being trapped in a confined setting, like the characters in Under The Dome -- a Stephen King book about a small town trapped under a weird, invisible barrier. (Okay, I haven't read that book, but I am watching it on TV.)
Speaking of Stephen King, if you love his books, you should definitely give The Waking Dark a try. And if you love YA horror, I don't think you'll be disappointed by this dark and gory tale.
Do you read horror? Tell me in comments about some of your favorite books.