Sunday, July 13, 2014

Horror Offerings for Young Adults

The focus of The R’lyeh Tribune is the horror, fantasy, and science fiction of the early twentieth century—“old school” weird or speculative fiction.  However, from time to time, contemporary work in the field will also be discussed.  It is a pleasure to become familiar with current or emerging authors in this still energetic and fascinating genre.  What has been done lately with the ideas originally explored by H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and their colleagues?

JournalStone is a small press that features horror, fantasy and science fiction for both adult and young adult markets.  The company recently encouraged subscribers to its newsletter to peruse a recently published young adult novel, Joe McKinney’s Dog Days (2013).  McKinney is a winner of the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a young adult novel, and the novel reviewed here is an example of his considerable skill as a writer.  (JournalStone graciously supplied me with a free copy of Mr. McKinney’s novel.)

In Dog Days, fourteen year old Mark Eckert awakes to find his neighborhood under water after a devastating hurricane.  Worse, three men have been discovered gruesomely murdered just down the street from his house.  It is his last summer before starting high school, and his sheltered suburban world has been completely overturned.  His parents are fighting, his best friend is experimenting with drugs, neighborhood bullies lie in wait to attack him, and now there are rumors that a notorious serial killer, long thought dead, has resurfaced.

Despite the aftermath of the storm and the terror of a murderer still at large, Mark must still struggle with the typical anxieties of a young man transitioning to adulthood.  Should he follow his friends into ever more perilous adventures, or abide by his parents’ protective guidance?  When will the adults in his life take him seriously?  And what do the terrible events in his home town of Clear Lake teach him about the meaning of life, death, and the nature of evil? 

The author displays a deep understanding of the vicissitudes of adolescence.  Through his young narrator’s thoughts we learn of Mark’s struggles to understand the chaos around him.  McKinney has a good grasp of the heroism of young people emerging from the protection and guidance of parents to take on the challenges and terrors of the wider world.

The novel is fast paced, with plenty of action filled episodes to keep the pages turning.  There is some graphic but not gratuitous violence—probably no more intense than in many video games.  The author has reworked a very familiar type of monster and made it fresh and frightening again. 

I enjoyed the numerous pop culture references, everything from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.  Though written for young adults, Dog Days is nostalgic fun for readers who came of age in the early 1980s.  Aspiring writers for the young adult market may want to spend time with this novel to see how characterization, mood, pacing and suspense are adeptly combined to create an effective horror story.

There is more that can be said about this impressive work of contemporary young adult fiction.  The author has covered quite a bit of ground with respect to adolescent psychology, American culture circa early 1980s, and the creative reworking of at least one very familiar subject of “monsterology”.  Joe McKinney’s Dog Days will be discussed in more depth in a future post.

Additional information about the author may be found at .

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