Monday, March 5, 2012
THE PRICKER BOY by Reade Scott Whinnem
He was human once, or so they say. The son of a fur trapper, he was taunted by his peers and tricked into one of his own father's traps. By the time anybody found it, the trap's vicious teeth were empty, pried open and overgrown. It was said the brambles themselves had reached out and taken pity on that boy; that his skin had hardened to bark as thorns grew over every inch of his body.
Maybe it's true and maybe it isn't. But anyone who knows anything stays out of the woods beyond the Widow's Stone.
That used to be enough. But this is the summer everything changes, as Stucks Cumberland and his friends find a mysterious package containing mementos of their childhood: baseball cards, a worn paperback, a locket. Offerings left in the woods years ago, meant to keep the Pricker Boy at bay. Offerings that have been rejected.
So basically, I am terrible, and I have a very long queue of books I need to review at Afterglow! But THE PRICKER BOY is the kind of book where you just have to climb to the rooftops and shout about how good it is. Oh. My. Goodness. Y'all. I can't even tell you how much I enjoyed this. I am an insatiable horror fan, and I have a particular interest in the rich tradition behind scary campfire stories, so as soon as I read the blurb, I pounced.
I grew up in New England, so I know this setting well: the protagonist, Stucks, lives in the Northeast, in a community that's the perfect vacation spot in the summer and a cold, unforgiving place in the winter. Most of his friends, except for his best friend Pete, are only there for the warm weather, and as the story begins, they are just old enough that they're beginning to outgrow the monsters in the woods. And the way those monsters draw them back in is deliciously creepy. There's something so psychologically terrifying about the dark forest, and Whinnem taps into those primal fears effortlessly. There were a few times when I had to look over my shoulder, just to make sure there was nothing lurking there!
But the character interplay was the reason the book exceeded my expectations. Like all the best horror stories, Whinnem juxtaposes the supernatural with horrors that are all too real: is the Pricker Boy stalking the group, or are the cracks in their friendship just beginning to take shape? Stucks is a wonderfully unreliable narrator, and the way the group dynamic develops packs a huge emotional punch. There's a revelation about three quarters of the way through that made me gasp.
All that, and it's incredibly well-written, too.
So what are you waiting for? Go read it! Read it noooow!