Title: The Reading Buddy by Bryce Gibson
Summary: A SET OF keys jangled in my hand. The keys were my lifeline. One of them would be what saved the day. I held onto them as tightly as I could.
I was being followed. The man running behind me was my stepdad, Morris Heyward. He was holding an axe.
AFTER THE DEATHS of his best friend and stepdad, seventeen-year-old Blake Thomas can’t escape the memories of that night…the screams…the blood…the axe.
Now, Blake suffers from social anxiety and making friends at his new home seems impossible. With his therapist’s suggestion, Blake joins a social media site called The Reading Buddy. It is supposed to be a way for him to slowly step back into social relationships, and it doesn’t take long for him to become online friends with someone known as Charley17.
Recovery seems to be within reach, but once the school year starts, three local teens quickly pull Blake into their own circle, and soon it appears that Charley17 doesn’t want to share his new friend with anybody else.
The Reading Buddy is a Southern-set throwback to the teen horror and thriller novels from the 1990s and will keep you guessing until the very end!
[Wing: Oh dear. We’re kicking this off with yet another summary that is not so much with the accuracy, and is trying too hard to be Point Horror-esque for a book that really isn’t.]
Disclosure: A copy of the book was provided by the author in exchange for an unbiased review. Or a lovingly snarky recap that may not be quite so loving, depending on how the story goes. Congratulations on book release day, Gibson!
This is the first time an author has reached out to us to have their book recapped, and I am both charmed and delighted by the opportunity and a little surprised. The author and publisher call it a book that will appeal to readers of retro teen horror from the 90s, which, you know, is pretty much our jam around here. I love a good southern horror, and I have high hopes for this one. I do worry that the marketing push to compare it to Point Horror and similar books is going to be a detriment; I’m going in with some solid expectations because I obviously know very well what teen horror and thrillers were like in the 90s. It’s kind of a specialty of mine. The summary and the marketing plan have driven home that this book will be that, and if it’s not, well … we’ll see.
Because this is a new book, and you may want to read it without the spoilers of the recap, I’m going to start with a brief, spoiler-free review.
In short, I loved the first ¾ of the book, but found the ending badly paced, with whiplash characterisation. The book itself is very slowly paced, which is something I actually love, particularly in horror stories where the writing establishes the characters very well. That doesn’t not really happen here, but I still enjoyed the slow pace for a long time, until it finally because too slow, with too little happening. Spent a great deal of time adoring the main character and at least one of the side characters. Mostly handles mental health very well, until it veers sharply off track.
I think it’s a fun, entertaining read, but it makes a lot of style choices that I think you’ll either love or loathe, with very little in between. Like I said, it is slow, and at times almost seems to be leaning heavily into southern Gothic, but it never quite makes it. In the end, I think that’s my biggest problem with the book (except for the moment where Wing Goes Boom finally over mental illness); it starts to be a lot of things, and starts to have a lot of things, like strong characters and great relationships, but it never quite gets there. There’s a lot of build up for very little payoff (and I don’t mean in the plot, necessarily, but more in the writing style itself); it feels very surface level at times, when it was leading into a deep, profound setting and character-driven story.
I wanted more from it, and though I really did enjoy reading it, I’m also left unsatisfied and wanting more depth, more description, more characterization, more transitions — just more.
Per the marketing campaign from the publisher, it is being targeted to readers of retro teen horror — so, you know, us — and I can see why. It doesn’t quite feel the same as Point Horror or Fear Street or Nightmare Hall or Christopher Pike, etc. In some ways, it’s better. In some ways, though, it feels even more surface-level than they do. It certainly did invoke a ton of nostalgia in me, but not a lot related to the 80s and 90s teen horror. Mostly, small towns and high school football and marching band and werewolves. (You’ll see.)
I liked it. I’m glad I read it. I’ll reread it. But I am left not quite satisfied, and since the early part of the book was great enough it set my expectations high, that is even more frustrating than if it had been bad from the beginning.
Let’s do this.