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We begin with Above by Isla Morley. When I first heard about this book in a publisher pitch, it was described as very like Room by Emma Donoghue. A girl is abducted by a survivalist, held underground for years (supposedly for her own protection from the coming apocalypse), during which time she has a child. The kicker? When she finally escapes it turns out her abductor was right! Isn’t that a great hook? What no one mentioned was that the survivalist is a school librarian. Creepy!!
Bird Box kept me awake way too late for two nights in a row. Don’t ask me how I can read horror at night and still sleep. I usually can’t. But this book was so engrossing…I just DID. Honestly, there’s nothing particularly “teen” about this novel. But I was compelled to review it here because I believe it has the right level of horror for teens. It’s truly scary, but not terribly disturbing. At least in my opinion. As we’ve discussed here before, everyone has a different tolerance for difference types of horror.
Author Josh Malerman is the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band The High Strung. Of course I looked for a playlist, and found it on the Powell’s website. Bird Box is a May 2014 LibraryReads selection.
MORLEY, Isla. Above. 384p. Gallery. Mar. 2014. Tr. $24.99. ISBN 9781476731520.
Sixteen-year-old Blythe had high hopes for the Horse Thieves Picnic, an annual tradition in tiny Eudora, Kansas. But after her crush leaves her sitting alone on the bleachers, Blythe decides to walk home. She does not make it there. Dobbs Hordin, high school librarian, stops his car to tell Blythe that she must get in; her older brother had a terrible car accident. Dobbs is to take her to him. It is a cruel ruse. He takes her to a long-abandoned missile silo, locking door after door behind her. Blythe is swallowed by despair in her underground prison, even as Dobbs explains that he is protecting her from the devastation above. Years pass. Babies are born and buried. Her captor is forever telling Blythe that he will let her go outside as soon as it’s “safe.” Blythe is left alone in the blackest darkness, her mind tortured, her body stolen, yet still she holds on. She ponders Plato’s allegory of the cave, imagining that she will see her true self when she is once again in the sunlight. Blythe never imagines, however, how painful sunlight will be when she emerges from captivity. Morley explores many themes of interest to teens, such as identity, trust, and the dual nature of compassion. Readers who like atmospheric, postapocalyptic horror like Julianna Baggott’s “Pure” series (Grand Central) will be easily drawn into Blythe’s story.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN
MALERMAN, Josh. Bird Box. 272p. Ecco. May 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062259653.
This fast-paced horror thriller alternates between past and present. Malorie and her sister Shannon are living away from home for the first time, outside Detroit, when the news reports start coming in. First in Russia, then Alaska, then closer to home, people begin seeing something so terrifying that they attack those around them, then take their own lives. On a drive to a doctor’s appointment—Malorie may be pregnant—they notice windows covered by blankets and pedestrians shielding their eyes. What are they worried about seeing? No one knows, because no one who has seen it has survived. For a while there are internet reports and television news stories, but eventually technology falls silent. After Shannon succumbs to the affliction (did she look out the window?), Malorie decides to try to reach a rumored safe house nearby. In the present, the protagonist is the mother of two four-year-olds, and none of them go outside their barricaded house without a blindfold. She has trained the children’s hearing, planning for the day they will row down the river behind their house to a better, safer place. Now the time has come. They will have to do it blind, with unknown creatures all around. Every whisper of sound is an unknown threat. This is an intriguing novel in which it is the not knowing that is scariest of all. Teen horror fans will be hard-pressed to put it down before Malorie and her children complete their trip down the river.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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