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Child Abuse (Physical & Sexual), Sexual Assault, Extreme Violence, Death, Murder, Bullying, Derogatory Remarks Toward Disabilities.
Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the reading and reviewing opportunity.
Stephen Chbosky penned one of the books that changed me as a teenager. His short novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is one of my favorite books of all time. It had a monumental impact on me when I read it for the first time, and it still does every time I reread it (at least once a year, maybe more). It’s a really important story to me.
So, when I heard that he was coming out with another book after 20 years, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. I hastily preordered a signed copy and awaited October 1st. But then.
I got an email with an approved digital advanced readers copy! My excitement was so, so high. I truly could not believe I’d been approved for this one. I started reading it that very same day.
I tell you all of this so you understand how much I anticipated loving this book; so that you know that I went into this with only the intent to love it. This hadn’t been hyped up for me and I skipped my usual activity of reading some reviews before starting so that I wouldn’t know what I was going into. I wanted to give Stephen Chbosky’s new book my undivided attention.
And yet… I didn’t love this.
I’m just going to go ahead and get this statement out of the way: this is just too long. I read an interview with Chbosky where he stated that even though it’s 720 pages, every single page earned its place. And I know that, to him, that is very true. Only he knows the vision he had for this book. But to me? This could’ve been a good 200 pages shorter. Maybe even 300, honestly.
The first 20-30% of the book is all exposition. Now, I love a well developed story… but I felt like even with all of the time the book took to build up what was going on, there was still so much confusion. It’s a horror/mystery book, so obviously the reader can’t be let in on all of the details just yet. But if you spend 200 pages completely in the dark about absolutely everything and get zero information in the process… it starts to drag a little. As a reader, you’re ready for the action; the climax; the big reveal.
Even when this gets to the big reveal, there is still so much left to this story. It was a good plot twist though, I’ll give it that. Chbosky did not a write a predictable plot (in my opinion). I was caught off guard and excited at the new direction the story was going in. But it went there for like… another 200 or so pages.
To be entirely honest, the length of the book was really what took away from some of my enjoyment, because I actually liked everything else for the most part. There were definitely some crude things that I didn’t feel like added to the story or the development (like the constant use of a mean nickname for one of the children who has a learning disability) that I could’ve gone without, though.
The story follows an assortment of characters, all in the same town, and all effected by the imaginary world in some way. It wasn’t always very clear how they all tied together until much later, but I enjoyed getting to read what was going on with people other than just Christopher. He’s the central part of the story, yes, but there are a lot of other key players in this book.
I also really enjoyed the spooky factor in this. It wasn’t so intense that it gave me nightmares but it was sufficiently creepy enough to have me looking over my shoulder while reading. I think that, for the most part, the plot came together at the end, but there were a couple things that I felt like could’ve been explained a little bit better.
Symbolism is a huge part of this story and Chbosky did a pretty good job working it all into the plot without giving everything away. There were some things I started to notice as I read, but I still couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was just obvious that there were specific things that readers are supposed to pay special attention to.
I wasn’t expecting any of the religious stuff that was tied into this story but I didn’t mind it. I honestly didn’t know that supernatural elements would play such a big part in this so I was definitely caught by surprise even from the first page. This is more supernatural than it is anything else. With that being said, I maintained my suspension of disbelief throughout the whole story, which I think is very noteworthy and worth appraisal to an author in books like this.
Another thing that I really want to say about this book is that it is absolutely nothing like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and that is OK! Since finishing this, I have read so many reviews who gave this a low rating with statements like, “I don’t normally like horror stories but I love Chbosky so I wanted to try this anyways”. I totally get why so many people wanted to read his new book even though they are not interested in the genre, but it kind of upsets me that they went into it comparing it to TPOBAW. The plot is very clearly so different, and the writing was absolutely nothing like his prose in TPOBAW.
I didn’t love this book. I liked it and I enjoyed the plot, but this was definitely not a new favorite. However, I came to this conclusion based entirely on only this reading experience. If I were to go into this expecting a story like TPOBAW, this would’ve been a monumental let down. But instead, I went into it expecting an adult horror book from an author who wrote a book that I love wholeheartedly. I didn’t compare the two, because they are so far from each other that I think it would be unfair. Basically, what I’m saying is, don’t read this expecting it to feel like the same experience you had with TPOBAW. It is an entirely different book, in an entirely different genre, with an entirely different writing style. The stories could not be less alike! I love horror books and creepy plots, so that was fine by me. Just keep that in mind if you decide to pick this one up!
In conclusion, this was a pretty average read for me overall. I enjoyed the plot but feel like it would’ve benefited from different pacing. If you’re a Stephen King fan, and you like horror stories or even just supernatural stories, this could be a really good read for you. It’s very Stephen King-esque.