Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn't even know why she killed—or whether she'll do it again.

Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander's, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who's not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves. 

My Review:

The Waking Dark as a YA paranormal/horror novel that boldly breaks with the conventions of YA paranormal/horror… and it’s fantastic.

I could go on raving about how awesome and amazing and fantabulous it is, but that would be kinda pointless and could take a while. So instead I’ll just break it down:

Four reasons why The Waking Dark ROCKS and should be catapulted to the top of your TBR list immediately.

1. It takes risks with the conventions of the genre.

The Waking Dark is told in alternating third person viewpoints—and there are many viewpoints: the five leads, plus prominent secondary characters. This when we practically expect any speculative YA novel to be told in first person, usually by the girl protagonist. Nothing wrong with that, and many, many other novels made it work wonderfully. But at some point, it severely restricts the narration and the directions the story can go in. 

The Waking Dark has five viewpoint characters… and Robin Wasserman makes you care about every single one. You may not like them, or agree with them, and the third person narration makes the flaws in their reasoning and actions painfully obvious sometimes—but that only makes it more effective. You will be rooting for all of them.

2. It takes risks with the content.

And I mean HUGE risks. Yes, this is a horror novel, so horrible things happen from page one. But at a certain point halfway through the book, I practically squealed in the middle of a crowded subway train… because I couldn't believe YA went there!!!
HIGHLIGHT TO SEE SPOILER: One of the main characters is burned at the stake by the bloodthirsty psychos who rule the town. Her own mother lights the match. Even in an adult book, that would have made me shudder.

This is how you write a dark book. A truly, chillingly, hauntingly dark book that doesn’t pull its punches, that depicts the sheer ugliness in the hearts of its characters with unflinching detail.

3. It uses real psychology as its basis.

It’s hardly a spoiler: there’s a supernatural/sci-fi-ish explanation for the events that are unfolding, but the beauty of this book is that it works without it just as well. Wasserman uses very real human psychology, which leaves you wondering if [SPOILER] the whole R8-G thing was even real in the first place. You see, in similar circumstances, THIS IS EXACTLY HOW PEOPLE WOULD ACT.  Ever heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment? Yeah. Shudder-inducing indeed. The fact that all this could really happen makes The Waking Dark even more brilliant.

4. The reveal.

It’s no secret that Robin Wasserman was inspired by classic Stephen King novels for The Waking Dark (she says so herself in the acknowledgments). But this book does for the “evil small town with a dark secret” trope what Cabin in the Woods did for the typical slasher flick. I won’t spoiler but the explanation is intelligent, original, and cool as hell.

Every page of The Waking Dark is brimming with psychological horror that grabs you and doesn’t let go until the very end. To put it simply, The Waking Dark is the best dark YA novel I’ve read this year--maybe ever, in any genre. If you like your YA spec fic complex, smart, and daring, this is the book for you.

Needless to say, I rate it five well-deserved stars. We need more YA spec fic like this, guys. We do. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I'm going to check this one soon as I get up the nerve!