I don’t know why, but those two simple letters, YA, turn me off.
As soon as I considered myself out of the ‘young adult’ section, I went from Goosebumps to McCammon. No, this is not a flex; I was way too young to be reading those novels.
One of my first big girl books was Dreamcatcher by Stephen King. I liked the cover and the premise seemed interesting. When I found myself at the beginning scene, with the hunter and the aliens exploding out of his ass, I put it back on my bookshelf and didn’t touch it for years.
I was so turned off from YA because it was such a stark change from a child into a teenager. Topics like romance or feelings were being discussed, and I had little interest in that. I didn’t want to read about boys or deal with the horrifying changes occurring in my body. So my transition from kid horror to adult horror was bumpy, but at least I didn’t have to deal with the topic of puberty!
And since then, I’ve avoided YA horror like the plague.
Then I read The Call, by Peadar O’Guilin.
A hazy fog surrounds Ireland, that no one can escape. Citizens live in a constant state of fear, because between the ages of puberty, about thirteen to sixteen, at some point you’re gonna wake up completely naked in Irish Hell and fight for your life.
This is the premise of The Call; three minutes and twenty seconds in human time, a grueling day in the “Grey Land”. You have a couple of hours to escape the beautiful fairy people, the Sidhe, because if they get their hands on you, you’re as good as dead. And they want nothing more than to get their hands on you.
So I saw this on numerous ‘best new horror of 2017’ lists, and at that same disclaimer—‘this is a YA book, but’—I turned tail. It’s still the thirteen-year-old in me, proclaiming that she doesn’t need to read ‘baby books’. I’m not sure what changed in me this time, but I took the plunge and ordered it.
When I got The Call in my grubby little hands, the second I read about the dogs molded out of human flesh that act as scouts for the fairy-folk, I didn’t put it down until I finished it. No joke. Within the first forty pages of the book, this happens:
“The first of the ‘dogs’ comes into view…she was once a human woman. Now she pads along on all fours. Her back legs bend the wrong way. Her jaws have grown thick and large with massive teeth that don’t fit properly together so that the mouth can never fully close, and a constant stream of drool hands down from her chin. Her paws are still recognizably human hands.
The creature is panting and whining quietly to itself. “Catch,” it says distinctly. “Catch and master will love me. Catch.”
It’s a dark book. Its really dark, and that’s putting it nicely.
The students of the new order in Ireland go to a survival college, where, they learn ways in which they can survive their inevitable call. To survive the Grey Land is to keep Ireland from dying out, but only one out of ten students return. And if the one comes back, more times then not they come back with a deformity.
When the Sidhe get you, they can turn you into giant hunting dogs whose sole purpose is to serve their masters. Or, if they need a horse in a hurry, they twist your body and mold your flesh into horse form. Then, they ride on your back while you writhe in agony. Or they can mix you with other flesh folk and turn you into a monstrosity made of amalgamated human parts. The Sidhe like to get real creative with the bodies they catch.
I’m not sure what makes a book young adult horror nowadays. Perhaps it is the nature of the writing or the discussions of love and friendship? But if all YA horror is like The Call, I think I may need to reconsider my ban on the books.
In my attempts to describe what happens to kids, even I’m like, ‘wow that was fucked up’.
Of course, I devoured both books in two days, The Call and its disappointing sequel, The Invasion. The Invasion is what happens when you have good ideas, but a limited amount of time to make a sequel. I don’t want to give away too much, but The Invasion had some good ideas, building from the first novel. But as soon as it starts getting steam it…falls flat.
There are canon discrepancies, things that don’t make sense in the context of the first book. But it is filled with the fucked-up antics of those wacky Sidhe folks that we’ve come to love. You know, things involving flesh and all that.