A good book leaves its readers feeling satisfied. A great book leaves them ravenous for more. As a long-time fan of horror, all it took to get me hooked on Ten was the tagline on the cover: Ten kids. Three days. One killer. If you love fiction concepts that have a little shadow to their edges, then this is the kind of premise that makes your pulse skip and your muscles tense with the possibilities. I was already looking forward to the September release date when good fortune dropped a copy of Ten in my lap a little early. So, now I can tell my fellow horror and mystery fans a couple months ahead of time: whatever’s on your TBR pile for the summer, be sure to make room in your September for this one. You won’t want to miss this.
I don’t want to tell you anything more about the plot than the tagline reveals, because I feel like I will be ruining the discovery process—and that process is engrossing. McNeil combines the shadowy touches of classic horror with a solid mystery that will keep you theorizing and shifting the pieces until the last reveal. She even manages to weave in a little romance that is not only believable, but also manages to avoid feeling out of place in the midst of such dark subject matter. That in itself is an impressive feat—until now I thought that horror and romance where the only two genres that could never effectively co-exist in the same book. In McNeil’s hands, they not only play nicely, but walk hand -in –severed- hand like they were made for each other.
The author has enough confidence in her story to take time in building her atmosphere, and she makes the process of settling into the novel enjoyable and even a little cozy. Elements of the Gothic tradition—from the isolated setting, to the barrage of awful weather, to the lingering presence of the past reaching its cold hands into the present– are beautifully woven in. The shadowy aesthetic of Dracula’s castle and Jane Eyre’s Thornfield Hall is infused into a modern YA narrative like the quite string section that underpins a powerful symphony.
McNeil makes us so comfortable in her setting that the first true “horror” moment emerges almost out of nowhere in truly spectacular fashion. One quick point that I need to make about this moment for my fellow horror fans: the first “big” scare is not a jump scare. It’s not a joke, or a trick, or ‘just the cat.’ It’s the genuine article—and from there, as they say, shit gets real. I won’t spoil the specifics for you, but when I read the moment in question I remember thinking, “damn–horror in YA is back, and its name is Gretchen McNeil.”
Good books leave you satisfied, but true gems leave you hungry. When I closed the back cover of “Ten”, I almost couldn’t bear to remove the book mark and move on to just another book. This kind of solid YA horror is so rare these days that my dominant thought upon finishing Ten was “I want more”—more from the YA horror camp, and more from McNeil specifically. I had the unusual experience of reading her sophomore work before her débuted effort, so thankfully, I can now look to Possess to satisfy this new hunger on both counts.
Ten by Gretchen McNeil goes wide on September 12th, 2012. Just in time for you to spend Halloween at White Rock House, if you’re so inclined. Settle in. Enjoy your stay. Just keep away from red paint and stay off the Turret staircase.