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.
We open with Blake Thomas on the run from his stepdad, Morris Heyward, who is chasing him while carrying an ax. Come on, Morris, if you’re going to be the bad guy, try a little harder! Odds are good that you will trip and impale yourself on that ax long before you can take out your stepson.
Blake is clinging to keys as his lifeline, and the first assumption is, of course, that they are to his vehicle. Except they’re not! He grabbed the wrong set running out of the house, and instead he has the keys to Heyward Pool and Supply, located in what was once a gas station in Ridge Spring, South Carolina.
As he runs up on the building, he sees his reflection in the mirror; he’s only wearing a pair of jeans and his bare chest is smeared with blood. You’re having a rough night, dude.
The store is one that Morris runs, and there’s no phone on the property because he uses his cell phone as his business line; Blake doesn’t have his phone to call for help because Morris smashed it earlier before this chase began. That’s a neat way to deal with modern technology in a book with a throwback feel to it.
Conveniently, Blake used to work at the store (before he started over at Burger Heaven), so he knows his way around even in the dark. He hides in the stockroom, crouched between the desk and the bathroom wall. This gives him time enough to think, and thinking is a bad thing, because now that he can think, all he can do is focus on one thing:
His best friend Davey Steep is dead, killed by the ax that Morris now carries. It is Davey’s blood smeared across Blake’s chest.
While he’s frantically trying to clean himself up, stricken by the feel of his best friend’s blood on his skin, Morris breaks in through the front.
Blake races out the back door and tries to make his way around the store’s best-selling pool (The Big Dipper, which delights me), but Morrisi tackles him and they fight up against the edge of the pool. Morris tosses Blake into it a couple times, and then it comes loose from its strapping and falls on top of them, and we get our first cliffhanger. Very first chapter, very first cliffhanger chapter ending. Stine, is that you?
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss us the hell off.)
A utility worker finds them around daybreak. Blake has survived. Morris, not so much. A crowd has gathered, because of course it has. Big city, small town, people like to rubberneck. Most of them look concerned and sad, but some of them judgmental. Again, very realistic.
After a few days in the hospital, Blake is placed to live with his father until he turns eighteen. When his parents divorced, his mom got custody. She married Morris and then died in a car crash, and Morris then got custody. Now, though, he’s back with his dad.
It doesn’t kick off very well, with Blake running late and his dad shouting at him to hurry. Blake’s late for an appointment with his therapist, not that he much seems to care.
There’s a doggy! Wolf, a black Labrador. I love her already.
They bicker in the car, and Blake “studied the outside of the house like [he] was a visitor”; it’s an old farmhouse with a rusted tin roof (TIN ROOF RUSTED), a wide front porch, and a sagging porch roof.
Destiny, his dad’s fiancé, will be joining them for dinner. Blake doesn’t dislike her, but he’s not super enthusiastic about it either, even though Destiny has been looking forward to it, and his dad wants them to be excited.
According to his psychiatrist, he has PTSD, and his shyness is getting worse because of social anxiety. That sucks a lot, and I feel for him. He thinks he’s in stage two of the recovery journey; stage one is pre-contemplation, stage two is contemplation, stage three is preparation, stage four is action, stage five is maintenance, and stage six is termination.
About a week ago, Blake knocked over a bottle of bleach, and the smell of chlorine sent him spiralling. This is both realistic in my experience, and heartbreaking. I’m finding him a sympathetic main character.
Blake and his dad live in Edgefield, which is a sharp contrast to Ridge Spring; Ridge Spring was a single strip of stores, business, etc., while Edgefield has a quaint square at its center with a gazebo and a looming brick courthouse. That’s fabulous, and creepy.
And, apparently, it has a violent past that means legend is every inch of the square had, at one point, been stained in blood.
His therapist, Mrs Reynolds, works out of her home. It’s not clear if this is who he meant by his psychiatrist earlier, which, therapists and psychiatrists are very different, but so far, mental health has been treated with actual tact and sensitivity, so I’m going to let this go for now.
They talk for awhile, and then Mrs Reynolds says that he needs to get back to reading, and even offers him people he can friend on social media, a reading buddy program. This goes over with a seventeen year old about as well as you’d expect. (There’s a cute little aside about how he actually had a reading buddy in elementary school, a high school senior, Bethany Crane, who was his first crush.)
Mrs Reynolds explains that it isn’t like that, they won’t know anything about him personally, it’s just a way for him to take baby steps into something of a social relationship and at the same time pick up an old hobby. This doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.
She also talks to him about how, despite it being understandable that he wants the closure that would come from knowing why Morris did the things he did, he may never get an answer or, even if he does, may never understand.
When his dad picks him up, he’s in a much better mood; Blake describes him as one of the “most flippant people” he knows, because on the way to town he was mad and now he’s smiling and being friendly. I am not sure “flippant” is the word you’re looking for there, Gibson, though I do appreciate how you didn’t immediately reach for “bipolar.” Should I be giving negative trope points? I think I should.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: -10 (-10) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
There, I think that catches us up. And my god, how much do I love seeing negative points for the mental health trope. A book that hasn’t made me go boom this far into it? I’M SHOCKED AND PLEASED.
His dad also thinks the reading buddy program might be a good thing, and then they run by the brewery he owns to pick up some flyers from Riley, who is a few years older than Blake and works at the brewery. (The flyers are for a night on the square with bluegrass music and tours of the farm. This is giving me so many southern small town feelings. I’m not sure the 90s nostalgia is going to get to me, because I spend so much time reading actual 90s teen horror, but the small town feelings, that’s going to carry me away.)
Blake has been doing some work on the house (like fixing old wires so they can use the nice chandelier that hangs over the dining room table) because his dad is too busy working two jobs to do it. (He also works at a local factory, and his dream is to one day be able to just do what he loves at the brewery. I am having so many feelings right now. STOP.)
Dinner is fine, if a little awkward, and in the bit we see of Destiny, she comes across as nice enough. (She owns her own hair salon, and she and Blake’s dad talk about work a lot.) This is all fine, but it feels like filler. I’m all for a slow build in horror, especially if it means really developing the characters, but this is only brushing their surface, except for Blake, and I think that’s what makes some of it seem like filler.
When Blake finally checks out the reading buddy site, he thinks it looks legit. It doesn’t require any personal information, just a username and password. He settles on “anxiety boy,” which both made me delighted that he is so self-aware and my heart ache for him.
There are hundreds of potential buddies, and he has to actually use the list Mrs Reynolds made for him. He finally settles on Charley17. Super creative username, that one. The profile picture is a stock image of a stack of books and his profile reads: introverted book lover looking for a friend.
Charley accepts his request, and that’s the last we get of it for awhile.
Instead, Blake wanders the land around the house, which are filled with hops and scuppernongs instead of hay fields and cow pastures. The land neighbors an old farmer’s land, Mr Callaway. I had to look up scuppernong, which is a variety of the muscadine grape native to North Carolina, and it makes a good wine, so I’m told. (To be fair, if I’d waited another sentence or two, I would have been able to figure out what they were from context, but I was too impatient.)
Scuppernongs apparently taste HORRIBLE, per Blake’s experience trying one for the first time. The skin is tough, the inside slimy, and it is just a bad experience. I’m filing that one away.
He settles in a clearing between the fields and a dense wood, and opens the reading buddy app. It has the current ebook they’ve downloaded from the site’s library (WAIT WHAT, FREE EBOOKS, I WANT THIS SITE), a list of their reading history, a message folder, and online status of your reading buddy. No lie, this app sounds kind of great.
The app shows them each other’s progress (Charley in yellow, Blake in blue), and they can highlight passages, leave comments, and send each other messages. The more I hear of this app, the more I want it immediately. Though not really for an anonymous reader, but it’d be great with my sister or various friends who read.
Blake has really taken to the program, because in a weird way it feels like he’s communicating with Davey’s spirit, and since he doesn’t know, and may never know, Charley’s real identity, he can use that fantasy to make himself feel better. This is both creepy and heartbreaking. (And Gibson is doing a great job of balancing creepy and [insert other emotion I’m feeling at the time].)
He only manages to read about 10 pages before he’s distracted by the sound of an approaching truck. When he looks up, he sees a girl about his own age, eating some scuppernongs. Instead of reacting like he did, though, she only spits out the hull and seeds.
On Mrs Reynolds’ advice for how to work toward overcoming his anxiety, he is supposed to start trying to make small talk with people. He wants to try that now, but can’t bring himself to do so, even though it “was like another person was inside of [him] trying to get out.”
The girl climbs into the truck he heard and takes off; he can’t see the driver, but it doesn’t really matter, because he’s too disappointed in his own inability to talk to strangers to care about much else.
That night, he gets a message from Charley asking if he likes her; at first he thinks the girl in the field, but then realises that Charley is talking about a character in the book, and he’s leapt about 100 pages ahead of Blake. Instead of trying to catch up, Blake tries to sleep, and is determined to make a friend when school starts the next day, even if it kills him.
Famous last words there, Blake.
One of Blake’s mantras is that he is a blank slate, but it doesn’t work for him on the way to school. He’s pretty sure that all his classmates know who he is because they can search the internet. He’s probably not wrong. It, understandably, makes him anxious, and I really like this character.
He decides he has three options on how to present himself: (1) cool and collected, (2) use his past to gain sympathy, (3) quiet loner who amy or may not be a “head case” because of what he’s seen.
You’ll note that I’m not giving this a mental health trope point, and that’s because Blake actually has a mental illness, and can reclaim that kind of language. I realise this is kind of a gray area, because Blake is a fictional character and Gibson has chosen how to write him, but this is a choice that doesn’t demonise mental illness and really works, both for the character and for how people dealing with mental illness can reclaim things for themselves. It is a choice, and it works for some people and not for others, but it works for me, and I think it works for Blake. Therefore, no trope point, just this explanation.
His dad takes this moment to tell Blake that he’s proud of him because he seems different, he seems normal. Ouch, dad. And there’s no trope points for this either, because while it is a shitty, ableistic thing to say, the book treats it as just that. And, in the context of what else is happening, his dad is trying hard to be supportive. His intent doesn’t actually matter when it comes to the harm he’s doing, but since the book shows it as harm, it doesn’t deserve a trope.
Blake is only faking feel confident; he’s really nervous and anxious, concerned about how he looks and what people will think of him and whether they will see all his insecurities.
Edgefield County High is a big cinderblock structure gray with age and weather, with a wrought-iron fence around the property, and pine trees surrounding it. Inside, the students are prepping for homecoming and spirit week, with each day having a theme: Inside Out Day, Stoplight Day, Inclement Weather Day, Super Hero Day, and Team Spirit Day. (I am having so much nostalgia for high school right now. A+ job there, Gibson.)
Though, this is the beginning of the school year, right? It is weird that they are already prepping for homecoming, which is usually later in the fall.
Anyway, Mrs Steinman, who teaches his first period class, makes all the students introduce themselves, and Blake is, of course, anxious and shaky and sweaty when he has to do so. Oh, dude, you are such a sympathetic character. I’m going to be really annoyed if you turn out to be the Muffin Man. (Blake is definitely at least one of the Muffin Men, come on.)
At lunch, Blake isolates himself outside, but still manages to meet Cade who is out there having a cigarette. He’s wearing a ratty, black t-shirt, jeans, and a cap. Cade knows that his dad is the guy who owns the brewery, and Blake wants to use this to salvage his reputation at school, but isn’t really sure how.
Eventually, Blake manages some small talk, and learns that Cade used to eat with his friend, Tristan, every day, but Tristan graduated and now it’s just Cade and Blake outside. Blake then offers to let him into the brewery if he brings his own cups.
Well that escalated quickly.
Blake sneaks out to meet Cade that night, and they make more small talk. It’s damn clear that Cade is using him (I mean, it wasn’t ever not going to be clear with that opening), and that Blake is trying hard to go along to make a friend.
And then we learn that Blake’s favorite movies are werewolf movies and his bedroom walls are covered with werewolf posters, and Wing fell in love. Obviously.
(And now I’m going to be so disappointed when there aren’t actual werewolves in this book. SAD WING.)
(But a Wing who now adores Blake, so.)
When they get behind the brewery, someone else is there, and Blake freaks out that they’ll get caught, but it’s only Tristan. There’s a no homo moment between Cade and Blake, because of course there is, though it is realistic for certain types of teenagers, Cade especially, and I like the book well enough so far that I’m going to let it slide.
The brewery sounds pretty amazing, all exposed brick and stainless steel. I love a good brewery, and the description of it here, and of how the beer is made, isn’t too out of place. It slows the pacing a tiny bit, but it’s been a pretty slow build so far (at least after that in media res opener), and I think it works so far.
Cade didn’t bring his own cups, but promises to wash all the glasses they use. Blake warns him not to break any, because Riley knows exactly how many of each style they have, and in comes the girl from before, who asks if Riley is OCD, because people with OCD like to count things and do it all the time.
So that stereotype came the fuck out of nowhere, considering I was just talking about how well this book was handing mental illness. I’m going to avoid giving it a trope point at this moment and see what happens, but my fizzy bubble of enjoying it has burst.
She’s Lisa, and she doesn’t drink because she’d “be strung up like a wild hog if [her] dad smelled that on [her].” Lisa’s homeschool, we learn from Cade, but Cade thinks she and Blake must know each other because her old man works for his dad. She’s going to Clemson in the fall, which is a university in South Carolina. (I’ve always wanted to visit their “experimental forest” because if that’s not a place for werewolves, I don’t know what is.) (That’s a lie. I know plenty of places for werewolves.)
The talk turns to college, as it does; Blake doesn’t know where he’s going, because originally he was going to attend USC and room with Davey (I assume that’s University of South Carolina and not University of Southern California; a dear friend of mine did her undergrad at the Carolina USC), but obviously that’s not happening. Tristan warns them not to go to Tech because it sucks.
Then Tristan says he wants to party at the brewery after the homecoming dance, and Lisa tells him he has no business at a high school dance. He’s got himself a high school girlfriend, though (or, as he so grossly describes her, “a little high school honey”). Cade oh so subtly tells Lisa that Blake is probably looking for a date to the dance, which makes me actually laugh out loud, so there’s that.
They play cards for awhile, but Blake can’t really focus and keeps looking around. One of the framed art prints on the wall catches his attention, a woman wearing a period dress and holding an axe. It’s Betty Cotton, the Murderess of Edgefield who, according to legend, killed her husband with an axe and now haunts Slade Lake. Shades of Lizzy Borden’s Forty Whacks.
(Also, though I normally hate the feminisation of words [e.g., actor/actress, poet/poetess], I hardcore love murderess. Wing, Murderess, Queen of the Crows.)
Blake keeps picturing Davey’s death, which makes sense, considering everything that’s happened to him, and it makes him feel dizzy and anxious, so he steps outside for some air. Conveniently, he does so just in time to see someone moving on the opposite side of the gazebo, somewhere wearing a black rain jacket with the hood up; though Blake can’t see their face, they’re staring straight at him.
Blake manages to trip, cut his shoulder, and knock himself unconscious. Smooth, Blake.
He wakes to Cade, Tristan, and Lisa staring down at him, and Lisa wondering if he needs stitches because there’s so much blood. They help him to his feet, and Lisa checks out the wound on his shoulder, while Blake wishes she’d keep touching him. Someone’s got a cruuu-uuuush.
They’re going to take him to the hospital, but Lisa points out they’ll need proof of insurance. Blake does NOT want to call his dad (of course he doesn’t!), but Lisa is adamant that he needs a doctor and takes it upon herself to call his dad. She’s take charge and a little weird. I like her.
How do you feel about werewolves, Lisa?
His dad shows up, takes him to the hospital, he gets stitches, a tetanus shot, and pain meds, and the next thing he knows, he “woke to a bare room full of moonlight.”
No, seriously, are you intentionally teasing me now, Gibson? Do you have a werewolf book I can read next? Because COME ON.
It’s not just moonlight, though; his laptop is open and the Reading Buddy site is up. He goes to shut down the computer, and finds the person in the rain jacket behind him. His laptop finally sheds light on the figure’s face, and it’s his stepdad, who attacks him with an axe…
…and of course Blake wakes up in his room, which is just as messy as normal.
He gets up to take a look at the tractor outside, which is harvesting the hops from the fields; the man on the tractor is Lisa’s dad, Mr Tanner. Another guy Blake doesn’t recognise shows up, and his dad goes out and has an argue with him.
His dad then comes in with the news that Cade had a wreck last night; Blake immediately worries whether he’s dead, which is understandable even under normal circumstances but especially after everything Blake’s been through, but nope. Cade’s bange dup, but fine.
Riley, however, needs help cleaning up their mess.
Riley (who wears wide leather cuffs around each wrist, and who therefore has piqued my attention) puts him to work wiping down the tables. They talk a little about how Blake made a big mistake, letting the others in last night, and that his dad knows what happened, but not because Riley told him; his dad was a teenager once, too, and is not that much older than them. Pretty sure Blake is going to think of his dad as older no matter what, but okay, Riley.
Riley says that he knows what Blake is going through, and gives him one of the three necklaces he normally wears; it is a silver square about the size of a stamp with the emblem of a tree etched into it. Riley explains that the oak tree is a symbol of truth, and someone special gave it to him years ago.
Blake, of course, wants to know why the hell Riley’s giving it to him now, then, and Riley tells him the story about his high school girlfriend whose parents moved her away. They’d meet once a week, and the last time, she drove too fast and wrecked on a bridge, drowning. Which is a terrifying way to die, really. After the girlfriend’s death, her sister gave the necklace to Riley, and told him that if he ever doubted anything, to hold it in the palm of his hand.
And now he’s working for Blake’s dad so he can buy an engagement ring. Ooooooookaaaaaaaay. Pretty sure his story was stronger with that part, unless it plays a big role later.
When he runs into Lisa later, she tells him that the guy who showed up was Cade’s dad, Mayor Williston, who is opening a new shopping center in a few weeks, a shopping center that will divert traffic away from the main part of town and impact small businesses like Blake’s dad. Is this going to turn into an interesting killing spree where a killer saves the town from the machinations of a wealth politician? Because that’d be super satisfying right now.
Lisa then offers to work with him to dig up dirt so they can fight back against Mr Williston. Fight back on what? It sounds like the shopping center is already built and filled with stores and about to open, so … what exactly do you think will happen here?
He’s skeptical, and she says that if he tells her why he stays cooped up in his room all by himself, she’ll tell him why she has a vendetta against Cade. Wait, against Cade or against his dad? Which one are you trying to fight back against? I’m so confused!
He tells her the story we know, dead best friend, stepdad murderer, anxiety. He also tells her about Charley, a bit, because she asks why he’s always on his phone if he’s so alone. That’s kind of jackass, Lisa.
Lisa, meanwhile, has it in for Cade because he’s telling people they messed around. Which is a great reason to be mad at him, and to want to get revenge, but still doesn’t explain why she made it sound like she wanted to fight back against his dad, earlier. This section is not working for me at all, though I love both Blake and Lisa.
They come upon a buzzard feeding on a black dog in the ditch. At first, Blake is terrified that Wolf had gotten out and she’s now dead by the roadside. This fear is a fear I know well, and I sometimes have anxiety dreams about something brutally killing my dog. The more I read, the more I like Blake, you guys.
They get close enough to see that the dog had puppies recently, and Lisa is sad that somebody hit her and just left her like that. People do that because they are shit, Lisa. There’s a long dirt drive in front of them, and at the end of it, an old, gray, ramshackle house with a single ancient tree. They head down to look for puppies, because they are trying to make me adore the hell out of them. (They are winning. A LOT.)
Lisa says a lady lives there, but she doesn’t know her name; the lady’s always been nice enough, though. She’s an old black woman, and the dog did belong to her; she’s sad, but not surprised that the dog was hit, because she always ran out into the road. She tells them it’s a good thing that they’re doing, coming clean about hitting the dog, and that a lot of bad can come from not telling, which sure as fuck sounds like foreshadowing of something; Blake tries to convince her that they didn’t, but then decides she’s senile and gives up. I’m starting to side-eye this section, considering she’s the only black character we’ve had so far, in South Carolina of all places!, and we don’t even get a damn name for her.
She gives them a tiny, wiggling puppy, the only one of the litter who made it. (Werewolf puppy? Please be a werewolf puppy. Yes, I realise it will not be a werewolf puppy and should give up. No, I will not give up.) They talk a bit about how the older you get the more you understand about losing things, she buries things (implied to be pets, but not guaranteed) under the tree, and her son’ll be over for dinner soon, and he’ll help her bury Molly, because of course we get the dog’s name before her name.
We do, eventually, get her name, which is Ziraili, and she says it means God’s helper. Lisa tells Blake he should name the puppy Ziraili, and she’ll call him Zee for short. They exchange numbers, and then Blake heads home.
Only to find the awesome news that because Mr Williston blames his dad for Cade getting drunk and wrecking his truck, he’s going to make them close the brewery by the end of the month.
WELL THAT ESCALATED FUCKING QUICKLY.
Someone’s going to deal with Mr Williston soon, right?
Blake immediately feels like this is his fault, and somewhat, it is. He gave in to peer pressure (shit, not even that much peer pressure; he pretty much offered it up on a silver platter), and of course, his anxiety is making him take all the blame. Cade is just as much to blame as he is, though, but of course Mr Williston doesn’t want to think about that part. (And also wants to get his way in a business situation, I’m sure.)
Later that night, Blake’s flipping through one of his dad’s brewing magazines when he sees that Piny the Elder (I’ve always seen this as Pliny the Elder) called hops “willow wolf.” NO SERIOUSLY, THIS BOOK BETTER PROVIDE SOME GODDAMN WEREWOLVES SOON OR CUT OUT ALL THIS TEASING. (I’m loving it, obviously.)
He then checks in on the Reading Buddy site only to learn that Charley has finished the book while Blake is only at 17%. When Charley sees that Blake is online, he sends a message saying that he’s missed him; this is the first time that Blake’s even really thought of him as a person, not just pixels and data, which is an interesting look at how people online can feel real or can feel like just a part of the system. Blake apologises and asks if they’re still friends.
Then Charley updates his profile picture to a vintage werewolf Halloween mask.
OH COME ON. This is starting to feel personal, Gibson!
Blake finds this a little creepy, even though he did mark werewolves as a favorite subgenre when he signed up for the Reading Buddy. Fair point, Blake. He then decides that maybe Charley is just awkwardly trying to connect with common interests, and so he rolls with it. Also a fair point, though since I know this is a book and Blake doesn’t, still fucking creepy.
(And a tease.)
Part two opens with Blake meeting Morris for the first time, and thinking that he seemed okay at first. Nonlinear stories can be great, and I have high hopes that this book will do something interesting with it, based on how much I’ve enjoyed the slow build so far.
Blake’s working on a school project about cutting a box up to check the groundhog’s shadow, which I’ve never heard anything like it before. Not the groundhog part, that’s pretty standard with Groundhog’s Day, but this is a weird and yet interesting school project.
(Random Wing fact: I once had coworkers who convinced a new coworker that we eat groundhog on Groundhog’s Day. We ended up having a big potluck before of it, but alas, no groundhog to be seen.)
Turns out Morris is a great artist, and he draws a perfect groundhog for it; together they finish the project. It’s hard to disconnect what I know of Morris from earlier with this Morris, but even trying to be neutral, this comes across as Morris trying way too hard to befriend his girlfriend’s son, but in a way that is natural and makes sense. This turns Morris from some black and white monster into a nuanced human who lives in the gray area of good and bad.
(Blake was seven at this point, so this is actually a fairly cute little scene.)
Blake and Morris got along well until his mom died, and then Morris changed. Everything changed. Immediately after, Morris tells Blake that he’s all Morris has now, the only person he has in the entire world, which is terrifying to deal with as an adult, much less as a kid. Damn, Morris, that’s a lot to put on him.
Back to the present, and Blake is having a terrible Monday morning. His shoulder hurts, it’s too early, it’s raining. He’s waiting for the bus, because his dad has to pick up extra hours at the factory since he’s losing the extra income from the brewery. This all sucks so damn much.
Instead of the bus, Tristan pulls up and tells Blake what we already know, about how everyone’s saying it’s Blake’s dad’s fault because Blake let them in there. Still not seeing how that makes it Blake’s dad’s fault. Blake fucked up. Tristan and Cade sure as shit fucked up, and then fucking drove drunk. The boys sure as shit should be sharing the blame. Or if they’re really going to blame the parents, Cade’s dad should be just as much at fault, since his son not only goes off underage drinking (which, whatever, it happens), but then fucking drove drunk, which makes him a threat to himself and others.
Tristan takes off when the bus shows up; this is Blake’s first time on a schoolbus. Damn, doing that as a teenager would suck so much. I’m shocked that there’s a seat available at the very back; that would not have happened on the school busses I rode as a kid. (By middle school, we lived close enough I walked to school the rest of the time, and drove during most of high school, but the back of the bus was always claimed fast, even on school trips.)
Everyone around him is dressed weird, and it throws Blake a moment until he remembers that this is Spirit Week, and the first day is Inside Out Day. That would be weird to see if you didn’t remember about it!
Throughout town, businesses have decorated with school colors because of Friday’s football game (the Homecoming game, which again, seems very early in the season, but the decorating is so great for small town football. My heart is full of football and marching band love and nostalgia right now).
Lisa’s waiting for him when he gets home after school. She’s wearing a purple fanny pack. Lisa’s terrible weird, and I like her quite a bit. She wants to know what it’s like to ride the bus, and says that sometimes she feels sheltered because she hasn’t experienced things like that, since she’s homeschooled.
As much as I am enjoying these characters, I have to say, they often sound like people in their 30s more than teenagers. Not that I’m saying teenagers are dumb or anything; teenagers are great, and I have amazing conversations with them. But they still don’t talk like people in their 30s. Not just word choice, because sometimes they have vast vocabularies, but cadence and phrasing and style — it all feels different, and that’s not being captured here.
Blake jokingly (or maybe “jokingly”) says they can take the bus to the Homecoming dance, so she can both ride a bus and go to a school dance for the first time. They go inside to get the dogs, and Zee somehow already has a smaller crate, even though Blake’s dad still hasn’t said the puppy can stay — oh, wait, never mind, we get that in a brief statement from Blake that he did agree to keep the puppy, even though earlier it was definitely set up that they’d have a longer conversation about everything that was happening. Guess that was off-screen.
Lisa’s been digging up dirt, and so far, she’s found that nearly 20 years ago, Mr Williston was arrested for deer hunting out of season. Blake is unimpressed, because it’s not that big a deal, but Lisa thinks there is more to it.
They take the dogs on a walk out into the hops field, Lisa talks about rattlesnakes, which makes Blake nervous (as it should! A dog bit by a venomous snake is not a fun thing to deal with at all — oh, and I guess he’s probably worried for himself, too, right, right), but Lisa’s dad says the snakes don’t like the weather, which is cooling off even though it was only the beginning of September. Which is really early to have Homecoming, I say again!
(The weather will be back in the 90s by the end of the week, which is both more normal for that time of year, and true to the drastic weather changes we can get.)
When they get close to a burn pile, the smell of it reminds Blake of a thing that happened when he was just a toddler:
A toddler, maybe. It was night. A full moon. I was crouched down low, peeking from behind a picket fence at a woman in a hooded red cloak. She was standing in the center of a freshly tilled garden plot.
OH COME THE FUCK ON, NOW YOU’RE JUST BEING MEAN, GIBSON.
Lisa has taken Blake to the land where Mr Williston was charged with trespassing when he was hunting out of season; now Lisa’s dad rents it from him. Considering the kind of businessman he seems to be, I am not surprised that he’s bought up a ton of land, but I’m going to keep rolling with this, see where Lisa’s going.
She has more research, too. An article from 1996 (more than 20 years ago *weeps*) talks about the Williston Hunt Club that will open that September, and the picture has six men in camo hunting gear. One of them is Blake’s dad. Apparently, he and Mr Williston used to be friends, and Blake’s dad used to hang out at the hunt club all the time, laughing with the members.
The clubhouse is now a pile of rubble basically where Blake and Lisa are going over all this information, and the last thing Lisa has found is the official hunt club membership certificate that shows her dad was also a member of the hunt club.
… not sure why this is so important to you, Lisa. She says it’s because she thinks they must have had some sort of falling out or Mr Williston wouldn’t be trying to close the brewery, and she’s determined to find out what it is. During Friday’s football game, she’s going to break into the Williston house.
Fuck, Lisa, THAT escalated quickly!
There’s a little bit of excitement with a cottonmouth snake coming toward Zee. Blake drags her out of the way, Wolf kills the snake easily, it’s all very quick and though I do love Wolf, feels a little pointless.
Back at the house, right before Lisa leaves, Blake tells her that he was serious about the dance. Awww, kids. You two are delightful together.
Blake tries to do homework after she leaves, but gives up quickly. Then he’s going to read some with the Reading Buddy site, but Lisa texts him a selfie of her in a white dress, and he decides flirting with her will be more fun. He hasn’t given any thought to what he’ll wear to the dance, and he says this is because he’s a guy, but hell, dude, you only asked your date about 30 seconds ago.
He settles on dark jeans, white button down shirt, and a blue bow-tie that he wore to church one Easter when he was in elementary school. How is that even big enough to still work? He sends her a picture, they flirt, still sounding not like teenagers at all, and Blake gets a message from Charley asking what he’s doing that weekend.
Mrs Reynolds has been telling him that he will need to learn to juggle friends, work, hobbies, etc., and he feels like Lisa and Charley are already testing his ability to do that. He tells Charley that he has plans all weekend, with a girl, and then Charley asks what he’ll be busy doing. UMM. Nosy much? (And potentially diiiiiirty.)
Next up is college sign up day, which is crowded into the gym, filled with representatives of different colleges. I’ve always heard of this as a college fair, not a sign up day, because it’s not as if you can actually just sign up to attend at a booth. It’s fun how different places call the same situation by different names.
Blake goes up to an empty table, and finds a clipboard with one name on the paper: Charley. Blake starts to feel chilled, and then the college rep turns up, older than the others. He tells Blake that Charley would love to have him join him —
— and then Blake wakes up from another bad dream.
We’re starting to need a bad dream trope counter, because this is getting ridiculous. Unless he is having prescient dreams, there’s no real point to them, they don’t succeed in raising the tension, and they’re starting to feel like the pointless cliffhanger chapter endings that some authors (*cough* STINE *cough*) love so well.
Blake’s in a lot of pain when he wakes up, and goes to take some pain meds. It’s then that he hears a high-pitched, piercing howl coming from downstairs; it resolves into a deep, steady bark. Wolf. And a high-pitched bark. Zee. Oh, god, these dogs are adorable. I love them so.
It’s clear that someone is outside, based on how the dogs are acting. Blake slowly makes his way downstairs until he can see the deadbolt — which is unlocked.
Okay, this scene is genuinely creepy and tense.
Blake swears he locked the door when he came in from his walk, and his dad isn’t supposed to be home for awhile, so he didn’t leave it open. Blake rushes down to the door to lock it, just in case, then peeks out through a window. A storm is blowing in, and the sky is dark. He wonders if Wolf is actually reacting to the storm, but then there’s a dull thump from somewhere inside the house, and it sounds to Blake like an ax slipping through someone’s hand and bumping against the wall or the floor or something.
This scene is SO GREAT.
Blake goes creeping through the darkness, until he searches the living room — and it is just his dad taking off his work boots. He flicks on a lamp, and all the tension fades. It’s a really well done written version of a jump scare moment, actually, and I like it quite a bit.
His dad got off early and came home to crash. He also brought a box inside, I’m guessing off the porch. Blake decides the mail carrier dropping it off is what got Wolf so worked up. I’m sure that’s it exactly, Blake. So sure.
Blake and his dad open the box, and we get this: Then, from inside the box, a girl’s deep blue eyes were staring back at me.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)
I might not have given this a point if there hadn’t been the much more effective jump scare moment only paragraphs before, but good lord. It’s a book called The Watcher. There are a bunch of other thin paperback books inside, too, and the smell of Davey’s mother’s perfume.
Holy shit, she sent Blake a box of Davey’s Point Horrors books. My heart is breaking.
Blake flashes back to when he met Davey, inside Morris’s store when he was just a kid. Then he reads the note, and actually, the books are from Davey’s mom’s childhood, not Davey’s, so they probably are Point Horrors. (Also, her name is Janice.) She misses Blake, and he misses her as well, because she was like another mom to him.
Tuesday is Stoplight Day, in case you are keeping track. Everyone is wearing red, yellow, and/or green, and there are allegedly an underlying meaning to it: green meant you were single, yellow signified that you were somebody’s friend with benefits, and red told others to stay away because you were taken.
Aww, high school ridiculousness. I love it.
At lunch, Blake finally reads all the old scratches on the table, which have conveniently been written over with black marker:
At the top, someone’s initials were written in capital letters: WHC. Even though I tried, my mind couldn’t immediately connect the initials with anyone that I knew. Below the initials was a horizontal line that separated the rest of what was there into some kind of chart. There were three columns: C, T, and B; each was separated by a vertical line.
The C column had five hash marks, the T column three, and B was empty. That wasn’t all: something else looked different about the letter B. I placed the palm of my hand flat on the wood and ran it over the diagram. Everything there, except for the letter B and the fifth hash mark under C, had been cut into the wood and then traced over with the black ink; it had all been there before. But the B and the fifth mark only existed in ink. They hadn’t been carved into the wood. They were new.
He gives up trying to figure it out, but then finds an index card shoved into one of the cracks between the boards. It has a crudely drawn picture of a girl with pigtails (so Lisa, because she’s obviously the only one around who wears her hair like that), and next to her is a long, detached penis. Lisa and Cade’s names are also on the card.
Cade turns up on crutches, right leg in a cast, and wearing a yellow polo, a false claim, Blake thinks. The sight of him also fills Blake with so much rage. He’s angry enough that he confronts Cade with the index card, but Cade just laughs. He then explains that the table is their club, and some of it becomes clear to Blake: C=Cade, T=Tristan, and B=Blake. Cade says he was trying to get Blake is first score on Friday night.
Disgusting. Unsurprising from Cade and Tristan, who have both come across as bags of dicks. Fuck off with this rape culture bullshit.
Blake says he doesn’t want any part of it and tells Cade to leave him and Lisa alone; Cade says that after their hook-up, he told Lisa it was just a one time thing, but she keeps bothering him and begging for more.
Blake’s rage finally gets to him, and he punches Cade, the first time he’s thrown a punch at a person, and it feels great. He bloodies Cade’s nose, and realises that he’s cemented himself into what he’s standing for now: Lisa is a friend that he’s willing to fight for, and Cade is an enemy.
And, of course, Blake gets busted so hard, because the fight didn’t end with that one punch, though we certainly didn’t get to see any more of it. (This is another thing that is annoying me about the book; a lot of it takes place off screen and we’re only told about it later, which slows down the pacing, removes a lot of the tension, and is a frustrating way to handle it. I’m still enjoying the book overall enough I’m trying to shrug off that annoyance, but it is getting to me.)
Basically, after that one perfect punch, Cade kicked his ass.
Blake gets suspended for the rest of the week, which also means no homecoming dance. No word on whether Cade is also suspended. He should be, even if Blake started the fight, but the way things are going, not only is he probably fine, but his dad will be suing Blake’s dad any time now.
Blake and his dad fight a little over both what happened and how Blake’s mom originally had custody, but his dad makes it clear that no matter what, he loves his son, which is pretty great, and a far cry from the Point Horrors this book is updating.
Blake wants to ask all sorts of questions about why Mr Williston hates his dad so much now, but he doesn’t want his dad to figure out they’ve been snooping, so he doesn’t. Then he texts Lisa the bad news about the dance, and takes a nap.
Lisa comes to hang out with Blake while he’s suspended, of course. They’ve kicked up their research, because now Blake has it in for Cade, too. As he should. The first day of suspension, they look through came camera shots. Lisa keeps printing things out, which feels inaccurate for present-day research, but you do you, girl.
We get this AMAZING bit from Blake about game cams: Every time that I’ve ever looked at pictures from one of the cameras, I’ve flirted with the idea of what if I saw something else on one of them. Some weird, unexplainable creature lurking in the night; something like Big Foot, South Carolina’s Lizard Man, the ghost of Becky Cotton, or a man in a rain jacket.
Game cams are creepy and wonderful and this captures that nicely. (I love watching game cams that are streamed online, because there always is that feeling that at any second you could see something terrifying.)
Lisa has found a gap of about two weeks in the game cam photos, and in that two weeks, there were a lot of flashing blue lights and a ton of ruckus, but nobody ever found out what it was. The pictures of that time period are missing from the game cam, and Lisa thinks that the Willistons are hiding something. She’s determined to find the camera.
Cade has an FFA meeting that afternoon (as he does every Wednesday), his parents are at work, and Cade’s dad won’t be home for hours. IT’S MYSTERY INC TIME, EVERYBODY!
They head over to Cade’s house, and Lisa is certain the camera is in the barn. (She’s “willing to bet [her] left nipple” which is such a weird phrase.) Three big letters are on the barn: WHC. It finally clicks with Blake that the WHC on the table is also for the Williston Hunt Club. So fucking gross, considering what the school WHC is hunting.
(This book seriously needs more werewolves. Maneating werewolves, at that.)
The barn is basically Cade’s personal clubhouse, with beer pong, posters of half-naked girls, etc., and Blake thinks they’re hunting for the wrong thing. If they can prove that Blake and Tristan make a game of hooking up with girls, they can really take them down. Pretty sure that’s just going to blow up in your face, new kid, and also won’t do anything to stop Mr Williston.
They search around, Blake finds a camera (he thinks the camera, but I am keeping my options open at this point), and they’re about to leave when Tristan shows up. They race upstairs into the hay loft. Tristan doesn’t notice them, or, conveniently, Lisa’s truck, wherever it is parked, just walks straight into the cabinet where Blake found the camera, takes something out of it (not that Blake seemed to have seen anything else in that black box when he grabbed the camera), and leaves.
The game cam has Cade with a deer that has been killed by an arrow. Tristan is there, too, and Blake says that Cade is just like his dad, hunting out of season (though not trespassing because don’t the Williston’s own the land now — though Lisa’s dad does rent it from them, so depending on their agreement … oh, I’m not going to think about this too hard). Unlike his dad, though, Cade didn’t get caught — except then there’s a cop car in the pictures, and Lisa decides that Mr Williston must have paid off the cop so Cade wouldn’t be charged, because a shit storm would happen if the mayor’s son was charged with a crime. Except that Cade drove drunk and no one seems to blame him or his dad for that….
(Also, I immediately went to Cade and Tristan hunting the cop next, as the most dangerous game, but apparently I am in a different book in my head. Whoops.)
Lisa then invites him to go the movies at the drive-in on Sunday, because it’s a full moon and they’re showing a werewolf double feature. Conveniently, Saturday is the last day he’s grounded, and they don’t have school for Labor Day —
Wait. Wait a fucking minute.
Labor Day is the first Monday in September, usually between the 1st and the 7th. Not only is Homecoming week apparently kicking off at the end of August, WHICH NO IT IS NOT, it’s taking place over Labor Day weekend? None of this makes any sense to me. The timeline on this feels like it is supposed to be October, but is not, and is at the end of summer, but is being written as later, and it is kind of making my head spin.
(On the other hand, the fact that everything else is so great I can focus on the weirdness of the timeline means that for the most part, I am loving this book.)
AND THEN his dad breaks the news that they’re moving in two weeks to Columbia (I assume the one in South Carolina) because his company has offered him a better position. Plus he and Destiny are probably breaking up in part because Destiny doesn’t think Blake likes her.
Okay, another complaint I have is the pacing of the book is off. In general, I like the slow build, but then things like this come out of nowhere for seemingly no point, but worse, in a way that makes me, as the reader, feel like I’ve missed something, but when I go back, I haven’t, it is just that abrupt.
Blake isn’t surprised by the Destiny part because: People with social anxiety often come across as standoffish, snobby, or uninterested. Since it isn’t easy for us to interact with others, sometimes people think that we don’t like them.
Which is true, but while I like how the book is handling mental illness, it often reads very textbook, which only exacerbates how little Blake sounds like a real teenager.
Blake ponders whether he should just break up with Lisa now, before he falls in love with her and then has to leave, but then realises they have less than a year until college, and if he can get into the same school she does, they won’t have to be apart for long.
UMM. You have literally just met her, what the fuck are you doing, Blake?
Thursday, Blake’s alone during the day, when the doorbell rings around lunchtime and the dogs go wild. (And adorable; Zee keeps trying to do everything Wolf does, but he’s too small, and I am utterly charmed by these dogs.)
There’s no one on the porch nor any packages that Blake can see, but then he notices the dark figure in the rain jacket across the street. Immediately he makes sure the deadbolt is locked. Blake moves to a different window to look closer, and whoops, in those few seconds, the figure is on the porch.
Even though Blake is trying to be quiet and stay hidden, he manages to trip on the rug and make a ton of noise. The figure keeps moving around the porch and stops at the next window. Blake, no longer worried about being stealthy, races upstairs and calls the police.
Of course, by the time Deputy Roper turns up, the figure in the rain jacket (now the man in the rain jacket, per Blake) is gone. Deputy Roper isn’t super helpful, but is also probably right; there’s not much he can do until Blake has been put into physical danger, even if someone is creepily wearing a rain jacket when it’s not even raining, as Blake points out.
CONVENIENTLY, it’s Inclement Weather Day for spirit week, because of course it is.
Deputy Roper implies that this is Cade messing with him after their fight, and he’s going to get a statement from Cade about where he’s been all day. Blake’s dad, again, tells him that whatever is going on between him and Cade has to stop, because he can’t keep being pulled out of work early.
Blake is desperate to talk to someone about what’s going on, but isn’t ready to tell Lisa he’s moving, so of course can’t talk to her about the other things that are happening. Instead, he turns to Charley. When he tells him that they’re moving to Columbia, Charley says they’ll be so close, and then sends him a photo of an old, brick building, the Palmetto Apartments, and Charley says they can be roommates, and it’ll be a step up from the “crazy house.” Oh, goody, here we go.
Blake is freaking out, both because Charley thinks they are going to live together and because Charley knows about his time in the mental hospital, which is supposed to be confidential. This really is terrifying.
He knows he has to stop communicating with Charley before things get any weirder, so he deletes his Reading Buddy account. Probably should have kept some of that as evidence, just in case, but I can understand that impulse.
And that night Blake dreams he’s a werewolf. Because of course he does. Because this book is dead set on tormenting me. COME THE FUCK ON. (This is so great.)
With clawed hands, I ripped at my clothes until they were in tatters. My rapidly growing muscles and changing bone structure pushed the pieces of fabric off my sturdy frame. Thick, brown fur covered every inch of my body.
I ran through the night and jumped from one bale of hay to the next. The feel of the cool air on my exposed anatomy was liberating. [Wing: Diiiiiiirty.] Eventually, I found myself standing outside of Lisa’s bedroom window. The blinds were open, and I could see her lying in bed, asleep.
It was there, in the glass, that I saw my reflection for the first time. I had large, turned back ears and a long snout that was full of canine-like teeth. My back was slightly hunched, but the size of my pectoral muscles and biceps made up for the bad posture.
I tapped on the window, and Lisa woke. She shoved the blanket aside and stood from the bed. She was wearing a cotton tank top and sleep shorts. She opened the window, and I lifted her up. With Lisa in my arms, I ran.
I didn’t put her down until I stopped at a small pond. Lisa sat on an overturned fishing boat, and I was on all fours lapping at the water. Lisa placed her fingertips on the flat of my stomach. The caress caused my body to flinch, and I stood up straight. Drops of pond water fell from my muzzle onto the top of her head. Finally, she slid her hand lower so that it was just below the slight paunch of my belly.
Is it dream!bestiality if there is dream!sex with a dream!werewolf? (Depends on whether the werewolf can consent, I suppose.)
Blake talks to Mrs Reynolds about his werewolf dream, and she tells him that subconsciously, he knows that he’s ready to change, and his true self is waiting to break free. He has to accept the past and face his fear to move forward.
She then shows him something one of her colleagues wrote: THE WOLF IS BELIEVED TO LEAD ONE TO JUSTICE above a black and white sketch of a howling wolf.
Book. Stop fucking with me.
She thinks he should start trying psychodynamic therapy, which neither Blake nor I know what it is, but she explains as: It’s when you revisit a traumatic event and rearrange the effects that those things have on you. It teaches you how to deal with things in a different light. You can’t change what happened, but you can take control of your future.
This triggers a memory of last fall when Blake and Davey were hanging out in Blake’s room, talking about the Groundhog Day box Morris helped Blake make ten years earlier. I’m shocked Blake still has it. Anyway, Davey says it suggests that they don’t control the things around them, and just accept the results as they are. Instead of just taking things as they are, if they play it right, everything is in their control.
(Also, misuse of “taught” for “taut” here, alas.)
In Mrs Reynolds’ office, Blake decides that both are true: some things we can control and others we can’t, but the important thing is how we process and act on the things that happen.
And then part three.
Lisa introduces him to her mom, who is out in the barn. Not that Blake thinks it should be called a barn, because the exterior looks like something someone could live in, with carefully landscaped shrubs and flowers around the perimeter, and inside it stores a camper, and is where Lisa’s mom hulls black walnuts, which stain everything. Her dad turns up to meet him, too. This scene does very little to add to the plot, which should be picking up speed at this point, but is floundering some.
Lisa has hacked the billboard at the Williston shopping center, and she’s really going to blow things up with her insinuations that the cop was paid to hide a crime. It’s going to go live on the night of the grand opening, and is far more than anything Blake ever imagined she would do. Lisa is both badass and making terrible choices here. I love her.
He then tells her that he’s applying to Clemson. Before he can tell her about the move to Columbia, she shrieks with joy and they start making out, and then hook up. It doesn’t take long at all, and within the hour, they’re at the drive-in theater.
Up until this point, Blake has only ever kissed one girl. Blake’s a little shaken by what’s now happened with Lisa. Amazing how the werewolf metaphor is running through with puberty here.
Time for the werewolf double feature at the drive-in under the full moon, which, BTW, is a perfect date for a Wing, just so you know.
As daylight slipped into dusk, the full moon became visible. The way that the moon was positioned right above the movie screen couldn’t have been more perfect. Both windows of Lisa’s truck were down. There was a slight nip to the air. The breeze that came in carried the scents of popcorn, cotton candy, and fresh cut grass.
When the sky was finally dark, the first movie of the werewolf double-feature started. It was called Cursed, and even though the movie didn’t scare either of us—we actually thought it was kind of funny, especially when the werewolf flipped off the main character. Lisa and I were huddled close together in the middle of the seat. We stayed that way, with my arm around her, all the way through the second feature, Bad Moon.
So many conflicting thoughts here. First, great use of movies. Cursed is delightful (and, I swear, tries to be the Lost Boys of werewolf movies), and Bad Moon is often considered one of the best underrated werewolf movies. The description is fantastic, and the setting nicely concrete.
Except this scene really has no point, and that slow pacing that I was enjoying is dragging on and on. For a book that is touted as in the spirit of Point Horror and other teen horror fiction, the slowness combined with the length is no longer working. It’s just gone on too long at this point, teasing plot points and action, but not fulfilling that promise.
They run into Riley and his fiance, Lindsay, and decide to get take-out from the Waffle House because it is too packed to get inside. They take their food to go eat in front of the Savannah River. This is, of course, the bridge where Riley’s girlfriend died, and Blake can’t shake the feeling of that story. When he asks Riley about it later (while the girls are walking along the edge of the water), Riley says that it did hurt for awhile, but he chose to focus on the happy times, because life’s too short to dwell in the past.
Later, Lisa and Blake are driving around when they find Cade’s truck run off the road into a corn field. They go to check, and find the inside of the cab covered in blood.
Cade’s dead, and Blake thinks he was struck over the head with an ax, though it’s not clear if that’s what really happened or whether Blake’s only thinking that because of his past. Immediately he wonders if all of this is about Charley, and what if Charley is the guy in the rain jacket following him around, and why would he kill Cade, and on and on in an anxious thought spiral.
A police deputy checks in on them at Blake’s house, and says that they haven’t found Cade but they did talk to Tristan. So, wait, Blake may or may not be dead? What the fuck is even going on here. Tristan said it was possum blood in the truck. No, really, what the fuck is going on here.
OH, WELL. Apparently, Cade staged the scene to make it look like a murder, because he wanted people to think Lisa and Blake killed him. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THIS RIGHT NOW, FUCKING WHAT?!
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1 (+1) (When something is done that is written off as a prank or a joke, but is actually pretty damned spiteful.)
The cops are going to do more investigating, because Cade isn’t around and there’s as yet no guarantee the blood is animal blood, but Blake doesn’t really trust them, since the sheriff seems to be in Mr Williston’s pocket.
The next day, Blake and his dad go spend the day at the lake with Destiny and Lisa. Blake’s reading on the beach (or “beach” since I don’t really believe a beach lake is a real beach) with Lisa when he has a flashback to Davey reading in the pool store, and then to Davey screaming with the ax buried deep in his ribcage.
Blake decides it is time to put everything to rest, because he doesn’t want to take any emotional baggage when he goes to Clemson with Lisa. You’re pretty damn confident you’ll get in, aren’t you?
Anyway, he wants to go back to Ridge Spring, to the house where it happened, in order to rearrange the memory using psychodynamic therapy. He also wants to get a box from there, the box where his mom kept her favorite memories. Why the fuck is anything still in that house?
He asks Lisa to go with him, and she agrees, because he needs closure. They sneak out after Blake’s dad goes to bed, and the drive to Ridge Spring goes well. The yard at the house is overgrown, the house looking terrible, the shingles have a gray-green layer of mildew and grime, and the front door is standing open, even though it’s still marked as a crime scene.
Pretty much everything is still in the house, which I find weird, but Blake does find the box he’s looking for. He also sees Janice’s perfume bottle near the back wall of the closet, and it adds a new piece to the puzzle of that night.
Blake invites her to dinner, and they talk about whether she wonders why Morris killed Davey. He then asks why her perfume was at the house, and she does admit that she felt bad for Morris, and they started dating secretly. She says they kept it quiet because people would try to link Morris and Janice to “that convoluted mess from mine and your momma’s past.” UMM.
Blake is at least as lost as I am. He didn’t even know Janice knew his mother, which doesn’t actually fit into how long Blake and Davey were friends, though maybe it does; the timeline is very vague and unclear, and while I think it is intentional, since Blake himself is vague and unclear, mostly it is just frustrating as a reader.
Janice says that his mother left his dad, just took Blake and ran, to protect him. His parents were part of a community that did arranged marriages, set them up with the kids were very little, and she wanted to get him away from all that.
WAIT WHAT. WHAT THE — NO REALLY, WHAT?!
What the ever loving fuck is going on? This is not plot twist fun surprise oh how clever. This is what the fuck am I even reading why is stuff like this only just coming out why does this book not have any sort of cohesive story?
Blake argues that his parents loved each other, and Janice tells him:
“The community had a person that they called The Sower. It was The Sower’s responsibility to announce who would be paired together. On a full moon night, The Sower would plant carrot seeds in the garden. When the carrots sprouted, the green tops would spell out the names…”
As she was talking, I recalled something from the house where I’d lived with Mom and Dad. There had been a framed photo of a garden plot that hung on the wall in the hallway. In the picture, their names—James and Lisa—were spelled out in carrot tops that were shooting up from the dark soil. Was what Miss Steep telling me actually true?
WAIT WHAT?! Are we just going to ignore the whole “Lisa” thing here? Is that supposed to be his mother’s name, as it sounds from that paragraph there? We’re just going to ignore the whole hooking up with a Lisa without ever having one thought about how she shares a name with his dead mother?!
Janice then says that she was a part of it, too, and she ran away not long after his mother did. Blake then realises (or “realises”) that the night he saw the Sower in the garden, Davey was with him.
Blake confronts his dad that night, and his dad gives him even more information. It was a self-sufficient community, they lived off the grid, had their own law and order, but the Caretaker controlled everything.
His dad goes on to say that it doesn’t matter whether they loved each other, but they loved him, and that’s why they knew the only way to give him a normal life was for his mother to take him and run.
And, of course, that creepy community was right there where they now live.
How had I been so naïve that I hadn’t realized I had been sent back to the place where I had come from? The same place that served such pleasant images from my past was also the place of lies and hidden things; things that only become clear by the light of the full moon.
With my right hand, I punched at the ground. I grasped the tall weeds in my fist and yanked. With my fingers bent into something that resembled claws, I dug down deep into the dirt.
ENOUGH ALREADY, BOOK.
Tristan turns up, and says that he’s been looking for Blake to tell him that he thinks what Cade did was stupid as shit. He promises Blake he’s not there to hurt him. He then warns him about getting involved with Lisa, who is not the perfect little angel Blake thinks she is. He shows him a hunting cam picture of Lisa on Cade’s lap in the back of a truck, hooking up.
Tristan then says that what they were doing with the WHC was wrong, but he has to warn Blake about Lisa, who latches onto people and won’t let go; she gets obsessed. Blake gets furious at Tristan, and starts a fight with him, too. Tristan shuts that down quick, though.
Before he leaves, he gives Blake one more thing, something Cade found in his dad’s stuff; a picture of carrots growing in a garden, the green tops spelling out Davey’s and Lisa’s names.
Back at school (finally, it feels like it’s been way longer than a week), Cade’s prank has made Blake the center of attention, and it is really hurting Blake’s anxiety. Also, Cade still hasn’t turned up.
Blake’s on the school bus when he learns that Cade is actually dead. His body was found in the woods about a mile from where his truck was abandoned in the corn field, and he was attacked with a sharp object. Blake is aware that this looks bad for him.
Lisa’s waiting for him at home, and she already knows what had happened. Blake says they have to get rid of everything, but Lisa says that the cops will find out anyway, and if they hide it, things will just look worse. He then wants to tell the cops everything, including the pictures of Lisa and Cade together, and demands to know why Lisa has been lying to him. UMM. Look, dude, you’ve been lying to her too, about your move, so maybe slow your fucking roll here.
A deputy shows up, and Blake really does tell him everything, including his theories about Charley. They pull up Charley’s profile on the Reading Buddy, but it is set to private; Blake opens his account again and sends him another buddy request. Immediately, Charley accepts it, which freaks Blake out because that’s too damn fast.
Lisa finds out about the move, because of course she does, says that he’s just like Cade and Tristan, and takes off. Blake is shocked by her response, which is fucking rich, considering how shitty he was to her when he accused her of lying to him.
Things keep going downhill. Mrs Reynolds thinks it’s best for Blake to withdraw from school and start again when they get to Columbia, and they kick their packing into high gear. Deputy Roper turns up to talk to them, because they have an update on Charley. He is in Columbia, but he’s been in a mental hospital the entire time, and he’s been on suicide watch for eight months, and there is no way he’s been anywhere but in the hospital. Blake realises that the message he thought was so creepy was actually about Charley’s time in a mental institution, not Blake’s. Fuck, that’s some shit.
Blake spends some time thinking about everything that has happened, and decides that everything rational points to either him or Lisa killing Cade, and he knows he didn’t do it. But do you really, Blake, because you don’t seem to know shit otherwise.
After some sleep (and a dream that he was dead, because pretty much all Blake does is dream anymore), he finally opens his mother’s memory box. There are pictures of her with his dad, her with Morris, lots of Blake, and the paper groundhog that Morris drew. Oh, god, that is sad.
Everyone wanted to know why he did it, because there was no motive, but there was proof; ATM camera footage of him running across the road with an ax in his hand, and he had a loaded pistol next to his body under the pool.
Blake is heartbroken that Morris was sentimental enough to add the paper groundhog to such an important box, and knows that the box contains the truth. A truth Blake desperately needs.
We’re to part four, and this book has gone from super fucking enjoyable to really, really, really weird. That means the flaws (the bad pacing in particular) are starting to grate at me.
Blake steals a couple books from the library about mental issues, and then starts relating this research to all of them, wondering if they’ve all been effected by the same thing, the place they came from.
That night, he sneaks out, takes his dad’s truck, and goes to Davey’s house to talk to Janice. She won’t let him in the house, says it’s a mess, so instead they go out to a busy diner. He wants to know what happens if the two kids arranged to be married can’t actually get married when they turn eighteen. He then shows her the picture of Davey’s and Lisa’s names in the carrot tops.
She says she never really knew Lisa, and that her adoptive father was a weirdo. Oh, good, surprise adoption, you all know how well that goes around here. Anyway, after Blake’s mom ran away, the community came crashing down. Mr Williston was the Caretaker, and that’s why he hates Blake’s dad so much, because he blames Blake’s parents for destroying their community.
Lisa’s family turned up, though, wanting to get everything back on its feet and willing to be the new Caretaker. Turns out, Janice was the sower all along. After that point, she took Davey and ran. Lisa would never have been assigned to someone else, though (and that is so fucking creepy), because the community looks down on divorce, and the assignment is as good as marriage; they were forbidden to start a new relationship even after a spouse died.
Janice thinks that he’s in danger, and that Lisa hurt him. Before they can delve too far into this, Deputy Roper and Blake’s dad turn up, and they escort him out, leaving Janice behind.
Lisa comes late at night and throws scuppernongs at his window to get his attention. She asks him via text to come out so they can talk. He tells her to leave him alone, which, again, is weird considering how last time she ran off, he was desperate for her to stay around. I’m starting to get whiplash from this part of the book.
The man in the rain jacket turns up and starts to chase her. Blake realises that she’s innocent and rushes outside to try to save her. They all run into the old tractor shed just outside the vineyard. Inside, Blake runs into three dead possums hung from the rafters, which is creepy as fucking shit.
The man stalks him, Blake shoves a stack of crates at him, but it doesn’t knock him down, and Blake races out into the vineyard. There’s a chase scene through the scuppernong field, Blake’s dad and the cops turn up, and the man tries to grab Blake, but he tries to get away from the “maniac.” WELP. So much for negative trope points.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 990 (+1000) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
YOU FUCKING KNOW BETTER, BLAKE.
Blake falls into a pile of overripe scuppernongs, and the man in the jacket turns out to be Mr Tanner, the Caretaker and Lisa’s dad. Deputy Roper finds them before Jacob can do anything. Lisa and Blake’s dad run up to hold him while Deputy Roper comes for Jacob.
THE REASON BEHIND Jacob Tanner’s actions was easy to explain—he had been protecting the creed of the community. People wanted that easy, straightforward kind of answer for Morris killing Davey, but there wasn’t one.
The reality was that a series of secrets and lies had led us to where we were. Some psychiatrists say that people with social anxiety are wearing a mask. They say that there is a fear of honoring part of yourself. And, for me, it was true. The reality of Davey’s death was something I knew I would have to face sooner or later, and I was at the point where I was ready. It was time to let Morris rest in peace. Finally, if somebody were to ask me what I was hiding, I would tell them the truth—my stepdad didn’t kill Davey Steep. I did.
MOTHER FUCKING WHAT?!
Oh, not the part about Blake killing Davey. Saw that coming from pretty much the first page. It’s everything else about this goddamn book that has me going WAIT WHAT at this point.
Well, that and so many questions about how Blake is still walking around free and clear, but I’m hoping those will be answered shortly.
Blake goes back to Ridge Spring to talk to Katie Carmichael, the one girl he ever kissed before he hooked up with Lisa, and who is, apparently, a key player in the events leading to Davey’s death. He meets her at Burger Heaven, where they all used to work, and we get a flashback to June.
Fry duty is the worst job at Burger Heaven, but Blake loves it when Katie is there, because it gives him the chance to check out her ass when she gets a tray from a low shelf. Two months after Blake kissed her, they’re acting like nothing happened, but there is also no awkwardness between them. She then asks him to a party.
The book jumps back and forth from present to past, but I’m going to just go as straightforward as possible. Davey confronts Blake about going to a party with Katie, and how he’s supposed to be done chasing her, and how he can’t be friends with both Davey and Katie. Davey crushed his phone when Katie called and grabs the ax, saying that best friends are supposed to stand together.
He was stealing small bills from the register, and Katie caught him stealing. She told him she’d have to tell the manager, and sent him home early. When she tried to leave at the end of her shift, her car wouldn’t start, and she called Blake for a ride, but that’s when Davey crushed his phone.
Davey then gets the pistol and bullets from Morris’ room. Blake wants to know what’s going on, Davey demands to know what Blake knows, he shoots the gun at the same time that Blake swings the ax. The shot doesn’t hit Blake, but Blake kills Davey. He changes out of his bloody clothes, and then sits and holds onto the loaded pistol.
The whole time, Morris was chasing him and breaking into the store because he was afraid Blake would hurt himself. After Morris was crushed, Blake came up with a plan that would protect Janice from knowing the truth about her son and breaking her heart. Oooooookaaaaaaaaaay.
Blake then goes to the police station with his dad, because he’s finally going to tell them the truth.
We skip ahead to one year later. Destiny and Blake’s dad are still together, Blake is off to an interview, Zee is still around and awesome, and he’s the only reason they got through Wolf dying. (NO WOLF WHAT. Why even have another fucking dog’s death as a throwaway line?) They get an invitation to Riley and Lindsay’s wedding, Blake is off to an interview at Burger Heaven, Lisa walks in wearing a rain jacket, and oh, nope, all a dream. Again. What the fuck. I’m giving it trope points.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1000 (+998)
TOO MANY FUCKING DREAMS.
Blake is actually in a hospital, the “crazy house” because of course.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1990 (+1000)
He goes to group therapy, and someone says his name. He’s weirded out before he remembers he’s wearing a name tag, and turns to see a guy wearing a t-shirt with a screen-printed image of a vintage werewolf mask on the front, and the name tag that says he is Charley.
WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST READ?!
NO REALLY WHAT THE FUCK. This book was great, a fun slow build with lots of werewolf teasing. Which was fine, but it also teased a bunch of other plots, which went nowhere. The werewolf part, the teasing was fun (if frustrating by the end, but still in good fun); the rest of it, though, just feels like sloppy writing and trying to hard red herrings. There are so many points that were interesting but just brushed over. So many scenes that really didn’t need to happen, seemed to have no point to the overall actual plot.
I loved the hell out of parts of this book, but the whole thing just doesn’t work for me. And that makes me sad. (I am, however, going to check out more of Gibson’s work, because this has a ton of potential, and the parts I liked, I absolutely loved.)
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1990
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1