I'd seen plenty of reviews for this book on my dashboard and the ratings were always up there. This, because I'm a cynical bastard, made me wary to pick it up and give it a read. Also, I started following the author and that made me anxious because I found that I really enjoyed his reviews and blog posts. I started worrying that if I read this novel, and hated it, that I wouldn't be able to post a review in my normal fashion (which, I admit, sometimes has heavy focus on the negative).
I'm happy to report that I enjoyed this book and that my rating has in no way been swayed by the above factors. I was also relieved to discover that I can review a book for someone that I follow without sugar coating things. Relief! Also, sorry for doubting any of you that have reviewed this. I've just been burned so many times! On to the review~
The writing style was the first thing that drew me in. I can usually tell within the first chapter if a book is going to be hard to get through or if it is going to be smooth sailing. This book was smooth sailing from start to finish. Everything was clear; the narrative mode kept me interested and invested in what would happen next. For any out there worried because this is free (and maybe self-published?), this book was well edited and definitely proof-read.
The second thing that hooked me was how real the characters and setting felt. I grew up during the 80s/90s before all the parents of the world decided that their children were safest kept/hidden indoors. Neighbourhood kids roamed the streets and often were out looking for mischief. Most of our entertainment was not filtered by mature ratings like it is today. You could say that it was from the most disturbing horror in this book that really transformed the freedom that youth had after my generation (especially in America, wow, the over-protectiveness of some parents here can be extreme).
Unfortunately (maybe my parents should have been more over-protective?), I experienced some of the horrors in this book in my real life which I'm not sure how that factored into my rating... but I'll try to explain. I think that the way this book handled these situations worked very well for me. The narrator revealed many things before they would happen which was a very smart move because otherwise I would not have finished reading it. These were trigger warnings so I knew that specific abuse was about to take place. Other readers out there might be angered at this because in a way there wasn't much suspense and you knew what was just around the corner. However, this book was not so much uncovering a mystery or having an 'oh, what the fuck' moment, it was a journey to be had with these characters.
Now for what I didn't like and what I think others might not like. There was a vibe of racism towards a specific character and his family that I felt made me lose a little connection to the main characters. It was very minor, but enough that I remember it still as the only thing that really put me off. For others, I imagine that many might find the character with Down Syndrome an issue. As I mentioned before, there is child and sexual abuse.
So, I'm stating these things because I know that this book is not for all. This book shows real horrors that are not fantastical, they happen every day and are very much a reality. Yes, there are obviously parts that are there for fun, but specific parts might make some readers angry. If you want to read a book that is a fun horror ride through and through (without deep emotional triggers), this is not the droid you're looking for.
Back to the good! I liked the ending even though it seemed a little cliched. I loved how things from the beginning were tied in to the end. That specific scene with all the connections coming together was great! I said above that this book isn't focused on WTF moments, but there is indeed plenty WTF's to be had. For me, I think I just really clicked with the characters (I felt less alone in regards to my own past) and I wasn't entirely expecting that out of a horror/thriller novel.
A grade for the villains, A+ for the writing and definitely A++ for characterisation. The plot was handled in a weird way (more telegraphing than foreshadowing) but that weird way kept me reading. This was a really awesome debut novel!