I’ve really been enjoying horror recently, and I read three very different horror stories- a YA horror, an adult Gothic horror, and a body horror manga- that I’ve decided to review!
This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going.
When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?
She always said I’d die without her and she left anyway.”
“But you didn’t die,” he says.
“I did,” I say. “I’m just waiting for the rest of me to catch up.””
I love zombie books. I have yet to find a zombie book I don’t enjoy. This Is Not a Test is no exception. We really get into the fundamentals of what survival means to these teenagers, what truly matters and how society- however small it may be- breaks down under pressure. While it’s not hopeless, a part of me always knew how this book would end, so I kind of felt hopeless for these characters throughout. It’s bleak and upsetting, which seems to be Courtney Summers’s forte, and I am very grateful a writer like her exists within YA.
I am so sad. I am so sad it makes me heavier than the sum of my parts. I shift, restless, but it doesn’t help. It’s like—time. All this time in here is on me, has its hooks in me. Maybe if I sleep more, I’ll wake up and I’ll feel different, but I can’t.
Reading this book was a revelation for me, too. Sloane, throughout this, reminded me of when I’m at my lowest, when all I want is to feel what other people feel but I can’t. I found myself completely understanding her decisions, her thought processes, going ‘I would do this too’ at times when I probably shouldn’t have been. Understanding a character so intrinsically is something I don’t experience a lot, so for that, I am very grateful to Courtney Summers for writing a character I could see myself in and still assess and make changes to the way I treat myself.
What stopped me from loving this was the romance. I genuinely do think it was unnecessary, something I rarely ever say about a book. I would’ve believed their taut friendship without any semblance of romance ever entering the picture; it just felt desperate and unneeded, and I wonder if it’s just because this was written at a time in YA where pretty much every character had to be in a romance.
This is a very strong horror YA novel, and great as a zombie survival story. It’s very quiet for a zombie book, but it has its fair share of gory moments and action!
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting…
I’ve always been weak for a good Gothic horror, and this really hit all the marks for me. Engaging social commentary, terrifying life size wooden cutouts, multiple POVs across time– it’s all so good. We flit between Elsie Now, badly burnt and a patient in a pyschiatric hospital; Elsie Then, before the fire, having moved into her late husband’s estate; and another POV, way way back, that I don’t want to spoil because I also didn’t expect it to be included. I think the multiple POV storytelling makes this only more engaging as all the information is revealed so gradually.
This story is terrifying. The scenes of horror, the scraping, everything about it, is so unnerving, and I’m glad I persevered and only read this at night and got to experience the full extent of fear. It’s rare for me to find Gothic horrors that satisfy everything I want from the genre, but I would go as far to say as this does it completely for me.
Elsie is incredible as a main character, I love her, and the twist at the end got me so bad. I literally sat gaping for several minutes afterwards. What’s also amazing is that this has genuine moments of humour that had me laughing out loud. Elsie and Sarah have a great dynamic, and I love the focus on female friendships and relationships above any other kind.
‘I like the air. I like to feel as if I am . . . outside.’ A few discordant notes clanged. She looked back down to the keys.
(That quote is genuinely the funniest moment in this whole book, and maybe one of the funniest in Gothic horror history. It sounds weird out of context, but trust me, it’s even stranger in context)
My only issue is that it feels a bit slow going and dense at times, but even then I could get through it for the characters. I like my Gothic horror with fabulously written female characters- basically the whole cast of this is made up entirely of women- and a decent chunk dedicated to actually giving decent commentary on social treatment of women and induced female hysteria.
(Content warning for miscarriages and child abuse)
Uzumaki by Junji Ito
Kurôzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral. As madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurôzu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!
The first half of this manga omnibus reads like little stories, interweaving to chronicle the collapse of a town. This is what I feel like the strong point was for this. I knew Junji Ito was good, and the subtleties in his story telling really makes you care for these characters and their lives, even though you know it’s almost hopeless to do so. You could easily pick up a couple of chapters at a time and be okay, but just reading this straight makes me appreciate Ito’s storytelling so much. I love towns that take on a life of their own, and that’s what makes this so creepy.
I really do commend the amount of time and effort Junji Ito puts into each individual panel, too. This collection is all beautiful, even the gross moments, although I will admit I expected more gross-ness and general horror from the collection. But Junji Ito’s art is incredibly detailed, and I loved looking at it and seeing where all the spirals were and how much intensity they gained throughout.
Definitely one of my favourite parts of this was the relationship between Kirie and Shuichi. Even before I realised they were dating you could tell there was a lot of love and care between the two, and by the end, they were the reason I was still reading so quickly. I think Ito creates incredible characters and family dynamics, so seeing the systems collapse in on themselves makes it even more awful to read as they feel so human. Kirie especially was my favourite, there’s something so warmhearted about her that stands out as the town collapses and more terrible things start to happen to people.
However, I think the plot kind of lost it in the last third. It lost what made it horrifying once you get some inkling of what the reasons are behind the spirals, and the ending really didn’t hit the mark for me. It would have been a lot more impactful, in my opinion, if it had showed less.
My next plan is to pick up one of his short story collections. I feel like his work is more terrifying that way, rather than being in the long form; you can tell he has a knack for short form storytelling!
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