“People live through such pain only once; pain comes again, but it finds a tougher surface.”
Dutton Books for Young Readers | 2017
Opening Hook: Start your egg timers
Main Character: A fish-out-of-water, almost literally.
Plot Twisty-ness: Too busy writing characters making out to remember to write the twists
I’m going to try to be nice.
And I’m going to try to be nice because while I didn’t really love this like I wanted to, I also didn’t hate it on its face. It’s not a bad novel in terms of writing, in fact, I think Stephanie Perkins has a promising narrative voice, she just doesn’t know what’s she’s doing with a horror novel.
I read this as part of my search to find a YA thriller that I actually want to rave about after I finish the last page, and I had high hopes this would be that novel.
It’s supposed to be a horror/thriller. It’s supposed to be, as per the promotion, “Scream meets YA.” The title, the cover – it’s all saying READ ME SO I CAN SCARE YOU!
You compare something to Scream and I say GIMME NOW.
I love Scream. I love all teen slashers. I grew up on that shit. It’s an important part of my developmental stages from child to teen to adult… which probably explains a lot.
But this is only comparable to Scream in the most basic way.
Teens. Killer killing those teens. Small town scared. End of.
This is not a horror. Though it did start off with enough sinister vibe to really catch my attention, the rest of the novel failed to live up to that feeling of suspense.
This is, for all intents and purposes, a romance novel set against a horror story backdrop.
This is horny teens fucking and drooling over each other, and then in between some random characters, who you don’t give a shit about, die.
I will say this to the benefit of Perkins – those death scenes were gory and gruesome and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
But what I would have enjoyed even more is something being at stake. Teen slasher flicks work because the protagonist loses the people close to them – friends, family. The killer is always waiting to fuck up a party or a shower or a movie night. That creates risk. That creates, just by the very essence of knowing that no character is ever truly safe no matter what they do, suspense and scares.
So either Stephanie Perkins doesn’t understand the elements of a slasher horror story that make it just that, or she was trying to put a new spin on what we expect, and she didn’t pull it off.
Here’s the problem: everyone who dies is a minor character who has nothing to do with the protagonist – Makani Young – and her group of friends. So, as the reader, you really don’t give a shit. The deaths are gory glorified cut scenes that are pretty entertaining, but it’s nothing more than that. They exist between teen relationship drama and teen sex.
If you don’t care about a character, you don’t care about the death. It’s basic horror math.
The only thing that can pull off the death of random characters is slasher flicks in the vein of Friday the 13th or Saw. Because they are multiple, and we know what we’re watching the movie for – the blood. Books can’t create the same motif.
Seemingly, Makani and her friends don’t really care about the deaths either. They exist in a different circle than the murder victims. It’s on the radar, it’s a topic of discussion, but it doesn’t really affect them. They worry about dating and sex and secrets they’re keeping, and every other teen issue, only occasionally breaking away from making out or having sex in a cornfield, to notice that some students they go to school with have been hacked to pieces.
I believe the idea was to make Makani’s personal orbit so interesting that the teen slasher flick backdrop added an exciting twist, a new layer to indulge in.
Perkins tries to accomplish this by setting up a romance between Makani – a mixed-raced Hawaiian transplant to Nebraska – and the school’s most unique white boy, Ollie. She also adds in a deep secret Makani is keeping about why she was jetted away from Hawaii to live with her grandmother in the Cornhusker State. But the thing is, Ollie’s pink hair and Makani’s teen girl mischief is not enough to detract FROM THE DEAD BODIES.
I’m sorry but in no universe is an average teen romance more interesting than the fucking serial killer working in the background.
To me, that’s this book’s biggest miscalculation.
At some point, Makani is attacked and things get a little bit more personal. But the why doesn’t make sense. And the fact that Ollie was naked at the time is what gets the most attention.
I also have an issue with the killer’s identity being someone the reader has barely heard of before. Again, ID’ing the killer (at about the 50% mark) as some essentially random character, removing them from the characters in Makani’s orbit, was super unsatisfying and didn’t produce any shock or scare, no heightened emotion for the reader.
If it was, the killer is the main characters best friend/boyfriend/sibling etc, who I have come to know and love?! How can this be? Trigger, shock and awe and a wide array of feels.
But when it’s, the killer is who? Have I heard that name before? He’s trying to kill her because why? Just because? Yeahhhh, not so much in the feels.
It’s hard to come up with a reason someone would start killing in a slasher flick, it’s usually for a personal reason. Teen slasher flicks are not serial killer dramas where the killer is methodical and slow and killing for complex psychological reasons. That doesn’t work for the genre. Slasher flicks exist for the fast deaths and the impending danger. The killer typically has a connection to the protagonist because it lends validity to the motive, purpose to the chaos and gives an added emotional trauma to the protagonist. Ie, guilt, terror, PTSD.
Ben Willis killed because he was run over with a car and dumped in the water. Brenda Bates kills for revenge against her murdered boyfriend. Michael Myers kills (originally) because he is out to destroy his family and you can’t get in the way of that. Jason Vorhees kills to avenge his mother, who killed to avenge her dead son. On and on and on.
You might look at Scream at say, “But, Billy and Stu did it just because they could! And you said you love that movie!” On the surface, yes, you are right, they did it just because. But in the end, you find out Billy did it for revenge against what Sydney’s mother did to his family, and he used Stu to help him. Stu was an easily manipulated lackey who did whatever Billy told him to and was notably upset that Billy’s motivations were not as original as he had been convinced they were.
That’s why you get this from Stu:
That’s the realization that he’s made a dumb fucking mistake.
My point being, even in a movie like Scream that tried a new tactic with motive, they still ended up right back at the same old “personal connection” kick off.
And this is because it’s what works. It speaks to human nature.
What doesn’t work is taking a character, who feels like you just pulled them out of your ass because you didn’t want to make likable killers the bad guy, and having them be responsible for all the bloody havoc for impersonal, and slightly unbelievable, reasons.
Bottom line is this, if you like horror and thrillers I would move on to the next book in your TBR. Horror and thriller fans are going to see this for what it is – a romance in thriller clothing. It lacks thrills and tension and scares, and comes across as if Perkins doesn’t understand the genre she is trying to plop her book into.
But if you love YA romance and want it with a little twist, this would be for you. If you’re a bit of a horror pussy, but still want to try it, this would be for you.
I’m cutting it down the middle and being generous with three stars. Because like I said, it’s not a bad novel and the writing is good. It’s just not what it claims to be.
Netflix has apparently bought the rights to the story. James Wan is attached to it. He’s responsible for things like Insidious and The Conjuring – both of which scared the shit out of me. So, I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those rare cases where I like the movie more than the book.
It’s been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she’s still adjusting to her new life. And still haunted by her past in Hawaii.
Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.
Stephanie Perkins, bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss, returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.