MANCHESTER, N.H., Sept. 27, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- More than slightly creepy
Awful things happen in a small town in Kansas in the pages of "The Waking Dark," the new YA chiller by Robin Wasserman. But in writing about characters who are isolated and terrified, Wasserman hears her young readers saying, "Welcome to our world."
If young adult fiction is hot these days in the literary marketplace, young adult horror is even hotter. And given the routine horrors of childhood and youth—notes Robin Wasserman, whose novel "The Waking Dark" has just made a loud debut in that marketplace—it could hardly be otherwise.
"My junior high years were miserable, terrifying, and I think that's the case for a lot us," said Wasserman, the author of several acclaimed series of YA novels—the "Seven Deadly Sins" series (Simon & Schuster), the "Chasing Yesterday" series (Scholastic), and the "Cold Awakening" trilogy (Simon Pulse)—and a faculty member in Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program.
"The brutality that we see in the novels of Stephen King, for example, corresponds to the brutality that to some degree we all endure growing up," she said. "We're told that there are rules, that everything is fine, but here we are on a desert island and there are savage things going on that your teachers just don't see. We live with these fears about how bad it could get, and a writer like King puts that on the page for us, gives voice to those fears."
In fact Wasserman has described "The Waking Dark" as "a four hundred-page love letter to Stephen King." Its seed was planted by her life-long passion for King's and other horror novels, and then took root with Wasserman's ambition to emulate King in his use of a small-town setting.
"I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, so I don't know that setting first-hand," she said. "But I've always been curious about it, and for the purposes of horror—well, if you have a small population that's also very isolated, a community where everybody thinks they know everybody, but then the rules change . . . Now you have a setting where the familiar can suddenly become strange, where things can easily get out of hand."
The story itself took shape around an old terror of Wasserman's youth. "I'm aware this makes me sound like a more-than-slightly creepy teenager," she told Entertainment Weekly recently, "but I was always terrified that someone I was babysitting would mysteriously die, and I would end up framed for murder. It's a fear that burrowed into my brain."
And so it is, in "The Waking Dark," that Wasserman's teenaged protagonist, Cass, murders the toddler she's caring for, and—with no memory of the crime—is subsequently institutionalized. On that same day, in this small town of Oleander, Kansas, four other inexplicable murders occur, with those perpetrators all committing suicide.
A year later, an EF5 tornado devastates the town and destroys a nearby (secret) government research facility. Oleander is cut off first by the storm, then by a government quarantine. Inside, anarchy reigns, and peoples' worst impulses come to the fore. Or is something else going on? In either event, Cass is on the loose and part of a small band of mismatched teens united only in their desire to survive—which means somehow getting out of town.
"It's 'Lord of the Flies' on steroids," cheered Booklist, in a starred review. "[Wasserman's] characters are antiheroes, seeking to hold themselves in check and fearing that they, or anyone around them, can suddenly become the monster they are trying to escape. It's a violent, edgy, well-written, and foreboding novel, so realistic that readers can only hope it's simply fiction."
Publisher's Weekly has starred the novel as well. "Wasserman juggles a huge cast, intense action, and some truly horrific moments with style and skill," said PW. "The novel works just as well as mainstream horror as YA, and the ending is both effective and brutal."
Of course the best YA will always have mainstream appeal as well. "We have a very strong YA track in our program, thanks to faculty members like Robin and Jo Knowles," said Southern New Hampshire University MFA program director Diane Les Becquets, herself the author of several highly regarded YA novels. "But it's not a separate track. They also work with students writing mainstream novels because storytelling is storytelling, and whenever it's done artfully enough, it transcends genres."
Robin Wasserman has done that before, and has emphatically done it again in this startling new novel. But she wrote it with her young audience in mind not only because of the essential truthfulness of horror for that audience, but also because of its redemptive power as literature.
"In these books we see people who are even more terrified than we are, and then we see them battle back and win," she said. "And that's why I always loved horror growing up. It recognizes that terrible things happen, and then affirms that they can be overcome. So as a reader, I'm thinking, 'If they can hang in there and defeat those monsters, then certainly I can defeat gym class.'"
"The Waking Dark" might be a love-letter to Stephen King, but as a crackerjack chiller in its own right, it's also a good dose of can-do to anyone who feels isolated in the anarchy of adolescence.
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CONTACT: Richard Adams Carey Southern New Hampshire University 603-284-7064 firstname.lastname@example.orgSource:Southern New Hampshire University