by Heather Brewer
Young Adult (13-17)
If you loved The Lost Boys, this book has the same feel. It’s about a group of delinquent boys who have a secret, and a new kid trying to fit in who is given a choice.
Stephen and his dad move to a painfully small rural town when his mother lands in a mental ward and the medical bills start piling up. In America in this day and age, an extended hospital stay pretty much ensures bankruptcy. So, in the town where his dad grew up, amid stares at the new kid and a psychotically strict grandmother, Steven ventures forth to find friends. Lucky dog, the first kid his age he meets is a totally hot goth chick who actually likes him.
Her name is Cara, and her mother went a little crazy herself when Cara’s father died. Now her mom wanders the town on Sundays explaining to anyone in sight that their sins will not be forgiven. Her brother Devon is a bit of a maniac. He’s the most charismatic of a band of guys who hang out each night at the cemetery (“The Playground”) and get drunk, ‘cause what else is there to do out in the country, right?
Stephen finds Devon’s journal and can’t help looking. It’s filled with sketches of dark bird-like creatures. The same things that he has seen on a mural in town. In fact, all of Spencer is downright obsessed with the legend of “The Winged Ones,” even the local police. Stephen finds black feathers near the reservoir.
I couldn’t believe this was really happening.
“YOU’RE GONNA BURN!”
Tension becomes raw hate between Stephen and his grandmother when she “puts away” every reminder of his mother in the house. Then his henpecked dad starts to criticize his relationship with Cara. But the challenges of a romance with her are hard to ignore given that Stephen’s been warned in no uncertain terms by her brother not to hurt her.
During Stephen and the gang’s nights of revelry the local theater burns down. Things are going bad for the town and getting worse. Everyone acts as though they are stuck there forever. No one seems able to leave.
Things get tense between the boys when Markus shows up with a broken arm. He had shown Stephen some old newspaper articles in the local library basement about a peculiar death in the town a few years earlier. Devon wasn’t happy about that, but Markus won’t admit who is responsible.
Things finally come to a head when Stephen gets suspicious that Devon’s fanaticism for the Winged Ones might go too far. They say the only way to return Spencer to prosperity after the Winged Ones bring their cyclical cloud of evil… is a human sacrifice. There is a long, very real history of people being murdered just before things turn around for the dismal burg.
Would Devon really get his band of rowdies to drag a homeless guy over the cliff’s edge? Is Cara safe? Markus has said too much, and Stephen himself is an outsider.
I am reminded of The Wicker Man as a town’s dark faith becomes insanity. But what about the sound of wings overhead? Maybe they aren’t so crazy.
…after a long, hungry glance upward, he dropped his dark eyes to me. ”You’re in luck, Stephen. They’re famished, so this should go pretty fast for you!”
At the end, I was left with that gut clenching feeling I usually get from a creepy Ray Bradbury story. My soul wanted a cathartic revenge, a slaughter of the guilty, a rescue of the innocent, but it was not to be. The only winner was Death. The horror is rooted more in the unchecked beliefs of the locals rather than the supernatural entities themselves, but it’s refreshing to encounter a new type of monster.
The story is effective in its slow, clouds-rolling-in-at-dusk exploration of a country crucible. I felt the camaraderie of the boys trapped in their rural hopelessness, and the atmosphere has a tangible Children of the Corn air to it. As we would expect from Brewer, the climax has explosions and blood.
Though the author has said this will be a stand-alone novel, the resolution feels a bit like the Sword of Damocles…