“I (Can’t) Hear the Music”: Considering Two Decades of Young Adult Horror

“I (Can’t) Hear the Music”: Considering Two Decades of Young Adult Horror.


Call for Submissions for “Touch” Anthology (Publication Oppertunity)


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A fifty year partnership; a ten minute conversation that stays with you the rest of your life; the end of an old friendship; the beginning of a new romance; seeking your footing in the uneven limbo as a familiar bond twists and bends into something new. Being human is a jagged chain of bonds and breaks, old stories and new starts. Existence is a steady cycle of attempts to reach beyond the boundaries that make us “ourselves” and connect with one another, with wildly varying results.

Touch is a collection of poetry and short fiction about the need to connect with other human beings. We want your stories and poems about broken, bonded, and mended human connections—among friends, siblings, lovers, acquaintances and strangers. Write about the pain of separation or the joy of finding a “kindred spirit.” Write about being forced together. Explore the pain of being to close. Muse on the end of loneliness, or the realization that it is time to say goodbye. Show us what happens when you connect with the wrong person, or examine the experience of connecting with no one at all. The possibilities are as numerous as the ways that seven billion human beings can find to reach or repel one another. Any genre of short fiction is welcome and encouraged (from literary fiction to romance to historical to science fiction and beyond) as long as the story addresses the theme.

Send submissions as e-mail attachments to: Realloudfamily7@yahoo.com

*Please thoroughly edit and revise all submissions.

*Please limit fiction submissions to five (double spaced) pages per piece; poetry submissions to one (double spaced) page per submission.

Submission Deadline: October 31, 2012

We look forward to reading your work!


Buffy: The Heroine Achetype (Revisting Season 1, Episode 1: “Welcome to the Hell Mouth”)


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“You’re not seeing the  big picture, here; I mean that gym was full of Vampi—asbestos.”—Buffy, “Welcome to the Hell Mouth”[i]


“Welcome to the Hell Mouth” was not my introduction to Sunnydale, so I lack the context to remember it as a piece of first-look nostalgia. I can, however, recognize it as an excellent, intentional first “hook” for what would come in the series as a whole. This episode is fully aware of its function in the rest of the series, and it gets down to business with the very first scene. The opening shot of “Welcome to the Hell Mouth”, a dark high school hallway framing two students trying to break in a back window, infuses a YA-esque “teenage hijinks” premise with a solid horror aesthetic, effectively telling the audience exactly what we are going to get from the series.

The scene also functions as a little bit of a micro-narrative all by itself: it gives us a clear situation, spends a few minutes setting up a little tension, and then closes out with a genuinely startling reversal when (spoiler alert) the scared, innocent high school girl shows her true face—both literally and figuratively—as the real threat in the room. So, essentially, the idea of “reversal of expected tropes” that the Buffy Summers character  is so often praised for shows up in the series long before we get our first look at the title character. Well played, Joss. Very well played.

Speaking of turning expectations inside out, let’s talk about our beloved opening-kill-girl-turned-badass for a minute, shall we? There has been plenty of discussion about the ways that Buffy Summers subverts the frightened blond trope common to many horror films, but far less about the ways that she takes the Chosen one hero/heroine archetype and skews it just off center, making her a slightly new look at an old mold. This shift in characterization stands out in subtle yet sharp definition in the opening episode.

Most chosen one heroes’/heroines’ stories begin with ignorance and enlightenment: Chosen one lives in a miserable state until someone connected to an underground world arrives to inform the hero/heroine of their true fate. Although Buffy is definitely a Chosen One Heroine (as Giles loves to remind us in his “One Girl in All the World” Spiels, two of which show up in this episode), in her case we miss the Enlightenment turning point.

This omission is definitely a feature rather than a flaw. We do not need Buffy’s “you’re a wizard, Harry,”[ii] moment because that is not the story that this series is telling. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the Chosen One Hero/Heroine story after the initial amazement has worn off and the world-weary struggle begins. When we meet her, Buffy Summers knows that she is the Slayer, and she is well acquainted with what that means. She has developed creative but effective methods of  recognizing vampires masquerading as human (“Deal with that outfit for a moment…only someone living underground for ten years would think that was still in”), and solid grasp of how they generally operate and replicate themselves. Her war stories for Xander and her performance at the Bronze illustrate that she has been doing this job for a while. If she ever had a wise, possibly bearded mentor who taught her to fight and acquainted her with the Ways of the Slayer before this point, it wasn’t Rupert Giles and it definitely did not happen at Sunnydale High. Buffy Summers is the next chapter of the Chosen One story arc: the experienced warrior trying to balance both her being and her destiny without seeing the one destroyed for the sake of the other. As an access point into this urban gothic fever dream, Buffy is a blend of the both the familiar and the fresh, and her moments of less-than-heroic, flawed humanness make her a welcoming focal point through a flickering stream of light and shadows.

[i] Quotes and references to Buffy: the Vampire Slayer are the intellectual property of Joss Whedon.

[ii] Quote property of J.K. Rowling (please do not sue me, Warner Brothers)

“Welcome (Back) to the Hell Mouth”: A Buffy Retrospective


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Well, the unfortunate day has finally come: I have no choice but to give the Twilight series some legitimate credit. Hold on, fellow Anti-Twilight-ers: at least let me explain before you start throwing tomatoes.

Between 2005 and 2011, the bafflingly phenomenal success of Twilight did two things:

  1. It brought everything related to Vampires that had been created in the last ten years back to the forefront; and
  2. It sent Vampire fiction enthusiasts diving for their war drums.

Most of them took their ire to the internet, and from what I saw, their favorite weapon was comparison.  The more Twilight hate I followed online, the more Buffy discussion I found: references and inside jokes I did not understand and diatribes arguing that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was essentially the anti-Twilight that exemplified what real Vampire fiction was meant to embody. The most intriguing of these arguments was actually a Youtube video of Buffy Summers “meeting” Edward Cullen that created an entire story arch using clips from BtVS interspersed with clips from the first Twilight movie. Before I had spent any time in Sunnydale, this effort was intriguing but mystifying; after I understood the references and recognized the clips it became six minutes of pure, distilled awesome.

Anyway, after a few months of this kind of priming, I noticed that season two of the show was available for free on Hulu and decided to give it a shot, and that was it. I was hooked within two episodes.

I never bothered with Buffy when it first ran in the late 90’s and early 2000’s because I have never considered myself a Vampire fiction person. It was only after Twilight made Vampires the big thing and inspired a flood of lament-laden, enraged comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer that my curiosity was aroused enough to try the show. I quickly discovered that Buffy was essentially a sardonic twist on classic Gothic horror. I might not be a Vampire fan, but I am a huge fan of the horror genre in general, and Buffy’s well-executed horror aesthetic, flippant sense of humor, and complex character development easily overcame my general aversion to the “creature of the night” tradition. I was in love almost immediately, and I never would have given it a second look had it not been for Twilight. I don’t reget it for a second, but that’s still something that I have to live with every day.

The Twilight connection notwithstanding, Buffy turned out to be such a gothic good time that I thought it deserved a closer second look. Thus, the plan for a retrospective was born. The game plan, in short, is to reflect on the series one episode at a time, with episode posts being supplemented with posts on characters, themes, story arcs, and anything else that strikes me as worth talking (or ranting) about.

It’s high time to dust off the cross bow and head back to the Hell Mouth. So, who’s with me?

Just because I’m nosey, here’s a quick question to start things off: How did you first discover BtVS?

Because the Buffy-Edward assk kicking i just is too awsome to keep to myself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM

And Now for Some Almost Unforgiveable Nerdiness (Redux)


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The following was origenally posted to my other blog on November 26, 2011.

(By the way, if you are new to the “Potter” series and have not read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yet, turn back now–I don’t want to be responsible for ruining it for you. Come back after you’ve expierenced the story yourself. Major spoilers for both the book and the film ahead).

“So I Finally saw ‘ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One’…”

…and  “Only one question remains: which of my children am I going to name after the director of this film?” I leaned over and whispered this to my mother as the credits of Deathly Hallows Part One began to roll. David Yates, I said that if you pulled this off, I’d love you forever—you now officially have my undying gratitude, sir.

In all seriousness, though, I was literally overwhelmed, in the best way, at the end of this film. The pacing was amazing. They managed to keep up the tension through a nearly three -hour movie; so much so that I was surprised, and a little disappointed, when we opened on what I knew was the last shot (because I’d heard that already on Pottercast). That time went so fast… and I can’t wait to sit through it again.

Even the slower moments kind of crackle with tension, because you know that the peace–or semi-peace–won’t last. That’s how it was as a reader, at least: for instance, when they go to see Xeno Lovegood, I relished the calm of that moment, remembering, from the book, that something big was close on its heels.

My mother had the misfortune to doze, thanks to having eaten before the movie, so she kept getting woken up by the battles and explosions that felt like they popped up every ten minutes or so.

Speaking of experiencing this film as a reader: because of my memories of the book, I recognized what was coming pretty quickly in most scenes, which made watching them come at me exciting in an entirely different way. For instance, I saw the aerial shot of Malfoy Manor and whispered to myself “oh, here we go…”, as the memories of that sequence in the book flooded back to me. I knew what was coming, but in the best possible way; it was anticipation, rather than the disappointment of a so-called “spoiler.” It gave me a little extra electricity that a non-reader wouldn’t have access to.

Most of it was internal, but those little electric anticipation moments happened through the whole movie. For example:  “Oooh, Oooh, The Three Brothers…” At that moment I actually squirmed a little in my seat, I was so excited; I had hared that they cut away from the mainstream action to show this part of the story, and I really like the way they did it–animation and voiceover was plenty for that. Excellent.

Another of those moments of recognition went something like:  “Oh, my gosh…I just realized what chapter this is…” (When Lily/Snape’s Patronus showed up at the start of the Silver Doe sequence).  Little things like seeing Umbridge’s ministry and the people making those horrible pamphlets made me smile, also.

And, of course, of course: Godric’s Hollow. Harry dealing with his parents’ absence from his life and  the family’s past is one of my favorite things in the books, and I loved the line that Harry got at the beginning of the Godric’s Hollow sequence in the film, when Hermione says that they should have come polyjucied: “This is where I was born, I’m not coming back as someone else.” Sigh. That was lovely. That whole first part of the sequence, with the snow and the quiet and Harry and Hermione at Lily and James’ graves, was just beautiful. It was a welcome little moment of calm between the battles, chases, and chaos,  especially since the second half of the Godric’s Hollow sequence consists of the battle with Nigini (which, once again, readers knew beforehand). That time in the graveyard gave the audience a minute to breath before our blood pressure went back up, yet again.

Now, I don’t normally react aloud to things in the movie theatre, but I had a couple of moments in this film in which I couldn’t help it. One was when Dobby showed up again (I whispered ‘Dobby!’ at the screen before I could stop myself); another was when they first cut to Ginny and Neville through the window of the Hogwarts express. I hadn’t expected to see Neville at all in this film, so when I realized who was sitting across from Ginny, I allowed myself a soft, excited “Oh my gosh…”. Neville was only on screen for a very short time, but he pulled another reaction from me with his one line. When he stood up and said, “Losers–he’s not here,” I had a little internal moment of Yessss–my Neville’s becoming a Bad-A already.

I also need to mention the seven Potters. I remembered this sequence pretty well from the book, and it was nicely done here. Dan Radcliffe did very, very well, and it was a needed, welcome light moment in a film full of intense sequences.

I had no idea that two -and -a -half hours could go by so quickly.

In the car, on the way home, my mother commented that every time she woke up and came back to things, it was “fighting…seemed like it was the whole movie.”

Me: “and you know the best part about that? This was the slow half of Deathly Hallows.”

Mom: “You’re kidding.”

Not at all, actually. This was a calm little romp through the countryside compared to part two. I can hardly imagine what the Battle for Hogwarts is going to be like on screen.

That will come later, though. For now, I’m content with basking in the glow of amazing that is Deathly Hallows Part One, and looking forward to seeing it a second time. And a third. And…you get the idea.

Thank you again David Yates, Steve Cloves and, of course, Jo Rowling: thanks to you- all, I think I’m going to be on a Deathly Hallows high all evening.

Oh, a P.S. that I just thought of:

I have to mention Hermione’s response to Ron’s return. When she looked at him for a second after beating him with the bag, and then turned around and asked, “where’s my wand, Harry?” I actually appluaded. Yes, girl; that’s exactly it.

I hope that Mr. Narrowcrookedlanes doesn’t mind, but a friend shared this with me, and it was so brilliant that I had to share it with everyone else. I think that’s how most revolutions of thought get started.


(Content: screwed-up gender dynamics, heterocentric discussion of sexist concepts.  Fun content: Klingons and daguerrotypes!)

(Alternate titles included The Ally Territory, The Companion Realm, and Eight Rules For Dating My Non-Age-Specific Fellow Sapient.  [Edit: also, Salacious Tortoises would have been a good one.])

This is one of those subjects that makes it hard for me not to just profane for a while.  I have been spending time (any amount is too much) on parts of the internet where ‘The Friend Zone’ is treated as an established and accurate concept, and now I just want to reboot the world.  On the plus side, it’s also providing me with a fascinating new perspective on the way I view people.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the reasons I love the heroic villain archetype is that they are doing the right thing even while not feeling like it.  They protect…

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Looking Twice: Four Films That Surprised Me on a Second Viewing


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I’ve always been a big fan of the movies. If I find anything charming in a film at all on the first viewing, I won’t blink at watching that same movie two or three more times. I realize that this isn’t the best use of six hours, but I suppose we all have our own favorite ways of wasting time. Anyway, all of those repeat viewings of films from all different genres, categories, and length classes (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I’m looking at you) are bound to unearth a surprise now and then. For me, it’s rather rare that my opinion of a film will change radically upon a subsequent viewing, but every so often, giving a film another shot does help me see it from a new angle, or appreciate something in it that I hadn’t noticed before. Examples of these little cinematic surprises can be found both in my childhood memories and offerings from the more recent past.

  1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Technically, I have not seen the original Disney film version of this as an adult, but I did see a stage adaptation that stuck very closely to the film, even down to using the introductory voice-over from the movie, so I feel satisfied that this one counts. I do not actually remember how I responded to this movie when it was first released, but going into the story for a second time, I made one grave miscalculation: I underestimated it. I mentally placed it in the category of “kid’s stuff,” and expected to be essentially immune to its impact: it would be cute, certainly, and even entertaining enough, but I was far too old now for it to really affect me. I don’t know if the fact that the stage version was live action had anything to do with it, but by the end of the play, I was genuinely choked up. The quiet, beautiful simplicity of the story took me off-guard: it seems that a story about isolated people slowly and cautiously learning to open up and let love into their lives has the same impact on the human heart, whether said heart has been beating for four years or for twenty-four. Looking back, I feel silly for ever believing that a story that explores such delicate facets human existence would fail to touch me—even if it did involve dancing toast and a man dressed in claws and fur.

  1. Aladdin (1994)

I’ve already praised this film pretty highly in a past post, and if my memory serves, I was fond of it even as a kid. The surprise in this one came much later, when I watched it again remembering having enjoyed it at the age of eight, but not expecting it to hold much charm for me as an adult beyond the draw of nostalgia. I may not have expected much, but when I did decide to try it again, I was surprised to find myself just as drawn into the story at age twenty-three as I had been at age eight, and in some ways even more so: for example, I didn’t know enough about Islam at eight years old to catch the subtle references to Muslim and Middle Eastern culture that the filmmakers included in the dialogue and action of the film, and my background in history as a college-age viewer made the beautiful employment of that setting even more interesting. I never felt as though the content were “talking down,” to me, and I found the cast of characters so well developed that you could transplant their story from animation to live-action without making many major changes. Overall, giving this film a second chance resulted in one of the most pleasant helpings of crow that I have ever eaten.

3 .The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008).

When I saw Caspian in the theatre for the first time, I cannot say that I hated it, but I recall being less than impressed: all I could really remember after seeing the movie was a battle scene that went on too long. Even so, I somehow convinced myself to see it again recently, and was treated to little treasures that had escaped my memory over the past three years. In particular, I had been too distracted by that over-long battle scene to recall how beautiful that film is. Caspian has arguably less character development than either of the other two films in the series, but it is filled with lovely, realistic sets, and little quiet moments that help create a subtle, gentle, mobile-painting of a film. (And, of course, it is fun to see familiar and well-love characters back in action, even if some of them did change a bit between films one and two). After waiting three years to give Caspian a second look, I’m now looking forward to a third round. Maybe I’ll notice something else that I did not see before; but even if I don’t, at least I can enjoy those stolen moments from C.S. Lewis’s and Andrew Adamson’s beautiful dreams all over again.

  1. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)

As a proud Potter nerd, I was as excited for the release of the Half-Blood Prince film as anyone else: in fact, it was the only Potter movie to date that I’ve ever seen at a midnight showing. When I walked out after the movie at 3:00 A.M., though, I confess that I was not sure how to feel about the newest installment in the film series. There were plenty of things that I had liked about it, but also a few that had thrown me a bit (for example, that scene of Harry flirting with a waitress nearly threw me off the bus in the first fifteen minutes of the film). My initial love for the Prince was lukewarm at best, but it was still strong enough to give the movie another go when the DVD was released a few months later, and I’m still glad that I did to this day. It wasn’t long before I learned to live with the more annoying and unnecessary changes (*cough cough* fanfic Harry *cough cough*) and grew to love the Half Blood Prince for what it really is: a realistic, atmospheric, shadow-drenched imagining of a fictional world that, for better of worse, occupies a little corner of my heart.

Although I might extend the gesture too liberally at times, some films really are worth a second look. At worst, a repeat viewing of a film that really deserves it is a little vacation in a well-built world of the imagination; at best, it is a walk down a welcoming path that is both familiar and full of surprises.

Dead Air: The Trouble with Writing Modern Horror



A classic convention of Western “scary stories” is isolation. Many horror films go to great effort to get the protagonists on their own–as completely cut off from aid as the script can make them–before bringing in whatever the looming threat happens to be in that particular story. Stephen King places the Torrence family in a snowed-in hotel during  the off season in “The Shining”; a group of young filmmakers wander deep into the woods with nothing but each other and their video equipment in “The Blair Witch Project”; and Bram Stoker makes sure that anyone who seeks out his Count will have very little recourse in an old, drafty castle out in the Transylvanian countryside in “Dracula.”

Sadly for the modern horror writer, though, isolating one’s unfortunate main cast was a much easier task before the ubiquity of the cell phone. In 1970, it was completely reasonable that a couple of teenagers who had car trouble on an isolated road would be sitting ducks for whatever brand of terror or threat chose to come along. In 2011, however, anyone trying to write a scene like that convincingly would be forced to contend with the first question that will spring to the lips of his or her audience members after the couple (or group) discovers that they are stranded: “where the heck are all of their cell phones?”

Some modern horror movies spit in the face of the safe-guarding connection to the outside world that technology provides by coming up with answers to that question. The most popular answer seems to be “reception is bad out here–our phones don’t work.” (The “isolate the main characters” rule, which places the casts of many scary stories in remote locations, gives this method of neutralizing those bothersome cell phones some solid credibility).

This, however, gives birth to another potential issue: creating a cliché. Horror films are particularly famous for trafficking in a variety of go-to clichés as a part of their story-telling method. I do not know if “the reception is bad” is an “official” horror cliché yet, but if it isn’t, I am willing to bet that it will be, very soon. Once this explanation gains cliché status, its intended effect will be neutralized: what was intended to help the audience suspend disbelief will serve to momentarily shatter the story’s illusion of realism, in the same way that well-worn clichés like, “let’s split up” and “I think I’ll investigate that strange noise, in the dark, alone, with just a flash light,” already do.

For this reason, it might be worthwhile for the horror writers of 2011 to consider new ways to get that irritating technology out of the way. The obstacle probably won’t be going away any time soon, so finding a variety of believable and interesting ways to get around it will result in a nice little sharpened tool in the corner of the story-teller’s tool box, just right for smoothing out those edges that are especially vulnerable to cliché status before they hurt the story’s believability.

If “bad reception” doesn’t work for you, or you’re afraid of over-using it, there’s always, ‘my phone died,’ but the success of that explanation depends on the number of people that one is trying to isolate. If there are two girls in a car, for example, it might be reasonable that one of them left her phone at home and the other one let hers die; but if the car holds a group of three or more modern teenagers, all of which have probably been familiar with the care and keeping of cell phones since they were about twelve, it might stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief when they all reach for their phones only to discover that every phone in the car has gone dead.

In a case like this, it might be best to mix it up. For example, let’s say we have a scene with three teenage girls in a car–Jane, Andrea, and Rose. They’ve broken down on an isolated road in the middle of the night, and the success of the plot that’s about to unfold hinges on the group’s being unable to get immediate access to outside help. When Andrea informs the others that the car won’t start, Rose volunteers to call AAA, and pulls out her phone to discover that it has died. (One explanation used up; two more phones to neutralize). Jane says she’ll call, but, digging in her bag, discovers that her phone is not with her. Establishing beforehand that Jane has a little sister who likes to borrow her phone without returning it might add extra realism to the idea that she would leave the house without her phone on her. (Two phones down, only the driver’s to go).

For the last phone in the group, the author has a certain choice to make: he or she might neutralize it in some other way (“this damn thing loves to drop calls”;” I don’t have much power left” etc.) or he/she can allow Andrea to make the call. The second option offers a real boost to realism and believability, but it requires the storyteller to find another way to allow the plot time to unfold: perhaps triple AAA says they will send a truck out, but because of the girls’ location, it will take a while; or the truck is dispatched, but has trouble finding them; or even a little twist in which the people that the girls have turned to for help–the police, the towing company, etc.–turn out to be the real threat, once they arrive.

The modern world can present some unique obstacles to horror writers that their predecessors never had to contend with, but what appears to be a stumbling block to believable storytelling can, with the right attitude, become a fun workout for the imagination.  Regardless of era or genre, the best thing that any writer can do is determine that he or she will not fall back on clichés or give up on an idea that they love, regardless of the bumps in the road. Give the imagination the freedom to do its work, and results might surprise even you.

Joie De Vivire: An “Anna and the French Kiss” YA Review



Here on the other side of the last page, I will admit that I was unfair to “Anna and the French Kiss” at first. Based on the title and what little I had heard of the premise, I expected it to be an empty-headed, thin cotton-candy fest about some vapid young girl and the “oh so hot” French boy she met on vacation. I would have passed it by without a second look if a rave review from author John Green hadn’t convinced me to slow down and give it a shot. So, thanks to John, “Anna and the French Kiss” now stands as yet further proof that one cannot judge a book by its title and basic premise…or something like that.

In my previous review, I said that “Anna and the French Kiss” was a refreshing return to old fashioned YA. This would be true even if it was “average” old-fashioned YA, but, as the story unfolded, it revealed itself to be well above the average mark. I’ve already mentioned my appreciation for Anna as a character, but it’s worth pointing out again: even pre-Twilight, some YA heroines were more than a little empty-headed and uninteresting, but Anna Oliphant, with her quirky humor and unique voice and passionate love of cinema, easily ranks among the most interesting and likeable YA heroines that I have come across since I started reading the genre ten years ago. Anna is real: she has goals and desires that are completely separate from her potential love interests; she has real flaws and challenges to overcome within herself–and so does her love interest, for that matter. This simple fact makes them each engaging and likeable on their own, as well as a ton of fun when they are together.

Another wonderful surprise that elevated “Anna and the French Kiss” above many of its peers was the presence of unexpected plot complexities. On the surface, the story presents itself as little more than a light, cotton-candy romp, but once the novel gives you time to get comfortable with the characters and understand the twists and turns of their relationships, it brings in some very serious conflicts that test those characters and adds new complexity to their relationships in a way that has you invested and rooting for them to make the right choices. None of it is melo-dramatic, either: in its own YA fashion, the conflicts presented in the latter half of the novel have the feel of real life: how it can give you a black eye when you least expect it and demand courage when you least want to show it.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that “Anna and the French Kiss” is exactly what I always believed YA could and should be–a story that can both tackle real issues with heart and sincerity and relax and have fun at the same time. Striking that balance is far from easy, but Stephanie Perkins’s “Anna and the French Kiss” proves that it is possible.

“Ten kids. Three Days. One Killer.” You in? (A YA Review)



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.