Author: Nate Kenyon
Illustrator: Zach McCain (Bad Moon Books edition)
Published: Bad Moon Books and Leisure Horror (2010)
SKU SKU20715 (Bad Moon Books)
If you're a little tired of horror stories that involve a group of teenagers running around scared and getting picked off by whatever soup de jour evil entity the writer(s) has concocted, and you aren't interested in reading or watching any more such tales, I'd suggest you give Nate Kenyon's latest novel a chance before you turn your back on those terrified teenyboppers altogether.
I find that the main problem with teen protagonists in horror is that so often they are cardboard cutouts recycled by Hollywood screenwriters, crafted solely and feebly to target that young demographic. Look at the most uninspired horror movies of the last few decades, and I'll bet you any money the vast majority include a cast of pretty young white kids (and their one black friend) being stalked by a monster or serial killer.
Fortunately, Nate Kenyon employs a small cast of teens in a New England town that actually feel pretty genuine, acting and reacting for the most part as real people would be expected to. It's the situation they find themselves in that is so unbelievable that it borders on outright preposterousness.
Pete and his friends (Tessa, Dan, Jimmy, Jay, and Sue) are looking for a place to get high one evening. Sue suggests her grandfather's nuclear shelter out on Sparrow Rock, since it's secluded and she knows the access code to the door. Bingo-bango, a little while later they've got their very own underground hideaway with all the amenities they could ask for. The only hiccup comes when what appears to be a major nuclear attacks strikes the east coast, leaving the group trapped in the fallout shelter with no idea what's happening or why on the surface.
But that's just the start, because pretty soon they start to hear noises--scratching noises--coming from beyond the thick concrete walls of the shelter. Then they find a door hidden in those walls that they hadn't noticed before and things really go off the deep end for them all.
That's about all the plot you're going to get out of me. If you want more, you'll just have to read the book for yourself, because I don't want to spoil it. I had as much info from the synopsis of the novel before I read it and, believe me, there is a lot more going on in crazy ways, which only get crazier in the final chapters. When I finished the book, I just had to say to myself: Sonuvabitch. He got me. Kenyon got me.
The tensions and interactions between Pete (the novel's told in first person through his eyes) and his friends come off as quite believable given the unbelievable events that befall them. And despite wondering after each new twist if Kenyon is putting too many ingredients into his recipe, he manages to do it all in a very engaging way by keeping it in the perspective of a very frightened and openly flawed young man with doubts about his own fortitude and that of his friends, plus a residual guilt for his ailing mother being left to fend for herself out there in the fallout.
With a couple of the characters (Sue and Jay), their interplay through a few scenes sometimes felt artificially amplified for the sake of adding more tension to the story, but it didn't really take away from my overall enjoyment. Anything that came off as familiar or predictable was overshadowed by the things I wasn't expecting and that nearly dropped my jaw.
I think an honorable mention ought to go out to Zach McCain for some good artwork to go along with each new phase of the story, as well as the cover illustration. I believe he did some covers for Ron Kelly recently that were pretty darned good too.
I don't normally go back to reread a novel as soon as I finish it, but the unraveling of secrets and big reveals through the course of this book are going to make me go back to read some key passages again. Kenyon does a great job of hiding the answers out in the open. So, yeah ... read this book if you're up for a horrific thrill ride with more than one well crafted twist. You may still feel the whole thing is outright preposterous, but you will have to admit that Kenyon entertained you regardless.