It has been a long time since I was genuinely scared by a book, especially one featuring zombies or vampires. Maybe it is the fact that they are everywhere these days, mixed with humor or social commentary that dilutes the horror itself. The last time I came close was reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage, but I will write more about that another day.
Last night I finished Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (Morrow, 2010). A wonderful novel that will doubtless end up on my personal favorites-of-the-year list, it has only limited teen appeal. Although it does alternate between adult and teen perspectives, it is about regret and a life ruined. It has a dark, sad tone that makes it feel adult. There is horror of a different kind here – real people doing ugly things. Crooked Letter centers on two men who were briefly friends as boys, one an avid reader of horror novels. He was as a boy, and continues to read and reread his favorites as an adult. Stephen King’s Night Shift and Salem’s Lot make cameo appearances.
Which took me right back to 8th grade, when my group of friends passed around The Stand. How we loved that book! It’s incredible, the staying power of Stephen King’s books with teenagers over the last 30 years.
Joe Hill is putting his own stamp on the horror genre. His first novel, Heart-Shaped Box (William Morrow, 2007) was a good read. Horns, published earlier this year, is even better. And it has teen appeal. Ig, the young man who grows the titular horns, is barely older than a teenager himself, and he certainly doesn’t act older than one. Young adults will be alternately horrified and laughing out loud. And not a vampire, zombie, werewolf or fairy in sight!
Stephen King’s collection, Just After Sunset (Scribner, 2008) won a 2009 Alex Award. Wouldn’t it be fun to see his son follow in those footsteps?
Adult/High School–Ig wakes up after a drunken night to find two horns growing out of his forehead. In the emergency room no one else can see them. They have the unfortunate effect of causing people to share their ugliest thoughts with Ig, and then immediately forget doing so. If he touches someone, he immediately sees their dastardly deeds and can sometimes push people to either fulfill or avoid their evil persuasions. One year ago, Ig was on his way to London for his first job, and Marrin, the love of his life, was planning to join him. But the night before he was scheduled to leave they had a terrible fight. That same night she was murdered. Ig is still the main suspect. Even his parents think he did it. Now, thanks to the horns, Ig sees that one of the people closest to him is pure evil. Horns is irreverent and can be laugh-out-loud clever. Teens will enjoy the humor, the horror, the love story and the murder-mystery pacing. Theology, pop culture, serial-killer lore, a great villain and a dramatic, gruesome final showdown all combine for a smart winner. And like Heart-Shaped Box, this book has, well, heart. Ig is lost without Marrin. He is figuring out if he is good or evil. As he becomes more and more enamored with his demonic side, Ig comes to believe that God is absent and the devil is the one with human interests at heart.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City