A Review of Elizabeth Kilcoyne’s “Wake the Bones”
Elizabeth Kilcoyne’s debut novel, Wake the Bones, comes with a paragraph-long trigger warning at its start as to all its disreputable contents. Having now read the book, I can’t remember what this young adult tome was trying to warn me away from. However, there’s a reason for the trigger warning and that has to do with the fact that this is a book meant for young adults between the ages of 12 and 18 — and putting the f-word twice into your book may be a cause of consternation for some parents. I’m kind of two minds when it comes to these types of warnings: I suppose if you’re squeamish, these points can guide you towards whether you’ll want to read the book or not. However, I also think they’re a little bit overdone: it’s as though the author or publisher is saying “look at how controversial this book is!” in a flagrant attempt for you to get to read it. And I’m reminded of the pseudo trigger warning that graces the opening of the film Cannibal Ferox. It was the sort of thing that promised so much blood and gore that I wanted to watch the film through my fingers. Except, well, by the time the film got going, I didn’t find it all that scary at all!
In any event, Wake the Bones is a YA horror novel that mixes up horror with confusion. It is very hard to tell what’s going on with this book. However, it does center around a 20-year-old-ish woman named Laurel, whose mother died sometime before in an apparent suicide. Laurel has decided to drop out of college, where she was studying to be a veterinarian, to instead work on her uncle’s tobacco farm in rural Kentucky — dabbling in taxidermy on the side. She’s friends with some of the neighourhood kids, including Isaac, a non-binary character who is gay, and Garrett, who is in love with Isaac but, unlike Isaac, does not want to leave Nowheresburg, U.S.A., behind anytime soon. Anyhow, as the characters go about their business, strange things start happening in the woods adjacent to Laurel’s uncle’s farm. Sooner than you can say the words “deer carcass,” the characters find out there’s a devil in the woods that wants Laurel. Why? I read this book and have absolutely no flipping idea why!
As you can tell, there were things about this read that had me wanting to throw my Kindle across the room. (I was reading the book as an advance e-galley.) I do have to be generous, though, and say that Wake the Bones is competently constructed. And by that, I mean that the whole point of Chapter 1 is to get you to Chapter 2 and Chapter 2’s point is to get you to Chapter 3. This whole thing is built like a car on an assembly line. It’s just got that kind of feel to it. And there are parts of this that are very well done, such as when a witch named Christine introduces herself — stealing every scene she’s in. (I kind of wish the entire book was written from her point of view.) I also must say that the book is original in its depiction of monsters and things that go bump in the night. Who would have thought that a skeleton made from different animal parts could be so creepy?
However, the book ultimately falls flat — largely because this is Kilcoyne’s first book and she’s still a novice in many respects. For instance, at one point Laurel is told that the only way to kill the devil that’s after her and her friends is to fight back with magic. At which exact same point, Laurel becomes some sort of magician on the spot. No long apprenticeships. No figuring out what to do. No, boom! She’s suddenly capable of using magic and defeating her demons. What the fudge? That’s not all that bothered me about the read. I’m guessing that Laurel and her friends are in their early 20s, but they act rather immaturely for their age. And so, I kept waiting for the devil monster thing that is hunting Laurel and company to start picking people off one by one. You will be disappointed to learn this (because this is a horror novel and I’m flagging this as a massive spoiler) but nobody dies in this book. Well, unless they’re already dead, and that’s another thing I could go off on. When Laurel tells her uncle Jay she can see the ghost of her mother, Jay just kind of accepts it in his own way. He doesn’t grab Laurel and peel off with her in his truck to the nearest psychiatric facility. Nope. Ghosts are matter of fact in rural Kentucky.
There’s probably a lot more stuff I could point out hating about this mercifully short novel. I could go on about the Isaac / Garrett romance. While it’s great to introduce young readers to queer fiction and characters, their story. is. boring. Honestly, it’s so two-dimensional and cardboard-like that any attempt at romance fizzles on the page. Again, you might wish that the devil in these pages was strong enough to kill off one of these characters just to spare readers from all the navel-gazing about the need to live beyond small towns and trite clichés about homophobic fathers. So if I have a trigger warning of my own it might be to advise young people to stay away from books like this. Not because they’re violent. It’s because Stephen King does this type of thing so much better (and, yes, with buckets of more gore than you’ll find here). Your best bet, because time and life are short, is to start at any one of the sixty-plus books he’s written. It’ll save you from having to piece together a broken Kindle because you just couldn’t take a hackneyed plot and flat characters in a terrible novel that is only redeemable because it is put together like a Ford. In other words, this book will trigger anyone who gets angry when a halfway decent concept is so poorly executed — as it is here. Avoid this unless you’re really, really curious. It stinks.
Elizabeth Kilcoyne’s Wake the Bones will be published by Wednesday Books on July 12, 2022.
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