The Waking Dark
By Robin Wasserman
Expected publication September 10, 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
One seemingly normal day in small-town Kansas, five different people - all average by community standards - turn into killing machines. By day's end, 12 people are dead and the town is shocked and confused. Little do they know, the madness and horror is only beginning...
As I've mentioned frequently in a number of reviews from the past month, I'm always looking for a creepy YA read (or a creepy middle-grade or adult read, for that matter). Recent reads have been disappointing. I downloaded this galley because it was being billed as a "Stephen King for young adults" novel. Shamefully, I've not read a ton of Stephen King stories, but I'm pretty familiar with his style. I think the comparison is pretty apt, but my feelings about the book are a bit more mixed.
I suppose this is another case of expectation versus reality. With the premise of this book, I expected a horrifying and gruesome read. And I imagine to many readers, this will be true. Maybe it's just too difficult to scare me or gross me out - as I've said before, I've been a horror fan my whole life, so I've read and seen a lot of gory, gruesome, and allegedly terrifying things. Wasserman doesn't shy away from depicting shocking scenes - the opening chapter, which details the killing day, is an intense way to start a story. Similarly, as the story continues, readers are treated to more scenes of violence and terror and Wasserman is never shy about them. I think, as a reader who is not easily scared or grossed out, I find the willingness to write truly awful stuff very appealing.
Additionally, I really liked that Wasserman chose to tell the story from multiple character points of view. It keeps things moving along at a nice clip and provides nice narrative changes throughout the story, jumping from one character's story to the next. And it is mainly these two factors combined that leave me feeling that the Stephen King comparison is a good one. Many of King's stories focus on small-town horror and introduce readers to a number of characters throughout the story, until the story becomes more about the town as a whole than the characters as individuals.
Wasserman is also just a skilled writer. Much of the horror she writes is written beautifully, and her descriptive prose is exciting and engaging to read. She pulls off the multiple POVs well and she keeps the plot moving nicely, though the book clocks in at nearly 500 pages. Wasserman also does a fantastic job maintaining an atmosphere of terror and unease - I'm pretty sure if I were living in this book, I'd go insane from trying to keep myself alive and well.
All this being said, though, I'm not 100% enthusiastic about this book. It's a combination of factors for me, some that have nothing to do with this particular book at all. With this book specifically, as much as I enjoyed the multiple perspectives, it made it a bit harder for me to empathize with the characters individually. Additionally, some of Wasserman's explanations for the killing day and what followed were just a little bit too silly for me. What doesn't have anything to do with this particular book is how continually disappointed I am when a book doesn't scare me and how tired I seem to be getting of this type of book. I'm finding it increasingly draining to read stories that showcase humanity at its worst - and it didn't help that I was reading another story of the same type concurrently as this book.
Overall, I think Wasserman's skill is clearly showcased here, in a story that will most definitely appeal to teen horror fans.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.