The Devouring by Simon Holt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I finished this book with an undecided feeling. It was a good read, and kept my interest. I'm not sure that I enjoyed it that much. A very interesting concept about creatures that take over the body of a person who is absolutely terrified on Sorry Night, which is the night of the Winter Solstice. I heard about this book, and read some positive reviews, and decided to go for it. I have no regrets that I did read it, but I have to say that there were things I could have liked better about this book. The opening was excellent, really unnerving me. I started this book right before bedtime, and I had to read a little bit of a romance book before I turned off the light and went to sleep. It sets the reader up to know this wouldn't be an especially gentle horror story.
When I asked myself what didn't quite ring true to me about this story, I am encouraged to go and analyze it. I didn't dislike the main characters. Reggie was a sympathetic protagonist. She's been forced to grow up too fast, coerced/encouraged by her father to take the role of her mother, who left the family and has not returned. She's only fifteen and she wants to do the normal things that a fifteen year old does, but she is pretty much forced to raise her younger brother, Henry, who is eight, since her father works a demanding construction contracting job (and is emotionally withdrawn). Going into the story, you feel her longing to be 'normal' and to not have the weight of the world on her shoulders. Mixed in is some resentment towards her younger brother, who has gotten more clingy, instead of more independent. This sets the stage for what will happen in this sibling relationship.
Reggie works in a small bookstore that caters towards the horror/gothic tastes. She unpacks a box of books and finds a diary-looking book in the box called The Devouring, which she decides to read, with her best friend Aaron on Sorry Night. She and Aaron expose themselves to their individual worst phobias and chant the mysterious poem at the beginning of the journal. This somehow seems to activate the vour to take her brother's soul, for he is the most frightened in the house. Reggie puts him to bed and he sits in the dark, afraid out of his mind, easy prey for this evil being.
From there this story turns into a 'Bad Seed' kind of narrative, as Henry becomes increasingly not like himself. He becomes cruel and violent, commiting acts that are increasingly disturbing. Reggie doesn't put two and two together at first, which I found annoying. Clearly her brother is not acting normal, and his skin becomes very cold to the touch. It takes too long for her to get a clue, but I was glad that she is scolded by her boss at the bookstore, Eben, for diddling around with this journal, and she didn't know what she was doing.
Reggie has to face her worst fears and delve into the fearscape where her brother's consciousness has been entrapped, in order to get him back and to save him from the Vours. They are after her as well. They thrive on fear, and Reggie has walked a tightrope of being brave (she's a major horror buff) and fighting her real-life fears. I thought this was a good message about not letting your fears control you, and facing the truth instead of avoiding the acceptance of things that you don't want to face and you know you cannot change.
I liked Reggie's buddy, Aaron, who is a bit of a geek, and who shares her love of horror movies, but also has a fascination with serial killers. He is a true friend to her the whole time, and I got the impression he might have a crush on Reggie, although she's fixated on footballer player and popular kid, Quinn. Aaron is in for the long haul, facing danger and his devastating fear of drowning, to help Reggie get her brother's soul back and to vanquish the vour that is controlling his body.
What I didn't particularly care for in this story:
I felt that Reggie and Henry's dad was too one-dimensional. He seemed like a plot point, only coming around to scold Reggie for not doing enough, and to treat Reggie badly when he starts to believe the Un-Henry's lies. He didn't seem all that real to me, and wasn't that loving. Okay, I can acknowledge that he was in a bad place, having lost his wife, and trying to raise his kids without her. But there wasn't enough signs of his love for his kids shining through.
Also I wished there was more closure about their mom disappearing. You don't really get too much information, other than she's gone, and Reggie secretly wished she was dead, rather than face that her mom ran out on her. I would like to understand what was motivating this flight. We know that Reggie was close to her mom, and they had girl talk session in the bathroom when she cut Reggie's hair. That's why I didn't understand what prompted her to leave, and there didn't seem to be any signs that she was fed up, either. The book doesn't really give enough information on this to feel like there's a whole story there, and so I am forced to see the mother as yet another poorly-fleshed out character.
I thought the book was a tad too gruesome. There are some pretty long, detailed scenes describing acts of cruelty or the aftermath that I am not sure how appropriate they would be for a younger audience. I had some issues with them, and I'm 36 years old. I think the author is targeting the young adult audience who loves slasher movies, and these teens wouldn't have a problem with these scenes. I can't fault him on that, but it didn't seem to fit in with the somewhat gothic vours concept. It seemed to go in a 180 degree direction, in fact.
The organic nature of the vours came out of left field, leaving me with more questions. I wasn't quite expecting that. I'm wondering how these pieces fit together, in fact. There is a sequel to this book, but I'm not sure how motivated I am to read it, at this point. I might pick it up later on to get some closure. However, I can't say I was blown away by this story, and felt motivated to commit myself to this series. However, I freely admit it was a great book to read on Halloween, and very suspenseful.
I think Mr. Holt is a very good writer, and has a talent in horror. But unfortunately, this book doesn't get out of B grade territory for me because of the lack of depth with the parents, and also with Henry (I couldn't feel too much for them). Also, there were some parts where Henry is treated rather brutally by his sister and Aaron (because of the vour inside him) that made me squirm. It felt like child abuse (irrational of me, but there you have it). It just needed a little more depth for me to feel more strongly about it. For a basic horror book for teens that doesn't require much emotional commitment or analysis, this is a good one. I just like a little more with my reading.
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