“Able to hold its own with other great coming-of-age horror novels.”
The Awakening by Brett McBean is one of those books that gives the truth to the old cliché about never judging a book by its cover. It is reminiscent of the covers that proliferated during the horror boom of the 1980s. However, this novel is far better than a great deal of the output that those schlocky covers graced. It’s not that it’s a poor piece of artwork, it’s just not really representative of the sensitive, coming-of-age, story the reader is treated to.
Toby Fairchild is a normal fourteen year old boy, with the normal teenage boy worries; getting the girl of his dreams to notice him, what to do to fill long summer days, and what will High School be like? Things start to go wrong when Toby, and his best friend Frankie, draw unwanted attention from local bully Dwayne, and subsequently when he befriends his strange neighbour Mr Joseph, a thin man with a stooped demeanour and an odd, bent neck. Mr Joseph is the subject of racial abuse, ridicule, and outlandish rumours from the children of Belford, and as his friendship with the old Haitian man flowers, so this abuse spreads to encompass Toby as well. Thrown into the mix is a budding relationship with girl of his dreams Gloria and suddenly Toby’s uncomplicated summer is anything but.
Toby’s three main relationships in the book, firstly with Frankie, then with Mr Joseph and Gloria, are wonderfully portrayed. The laid-back banter of close-friends, the respectful and reserved interactions with a senior figure, and the awkward nervousness of first love are all handled confidently with some delightful scenes.
Also well-handled is the revelation of Mr Joseph’s nature and his engrossing backstory. A strong foundation for the story’s later fantastical elements is firmly laid in this middle portion of the book, although it does slow the pace somewhat and there is a noticeable lack of investigation work for what is essentially a murder mystery story. A sub-plot about a missing boy is all but forgotten until it suits the climax to bring it up again.
The only real problem with the novel is the rather two-dimensional depiction of Dwayne, who is essentially the main antagonist of the book. He’s a bit too much of a teen movie bully and would have benefitted from a scene or two more showing why he acts in such a boorish and aggressive manner.
Ultimately, this is a novel that more than rewards you for your time and provides a reading experience that is able to hold its own with great coming-of-age horror novels of the likes of Robert R McCammon’s Boy’s Life and Stephen King’s The Body.
Publisher: Bloodshot Books
Release Date: 20 July 2016
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