This one hurt – The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

The first few pages of The Waking Dark drew me into the creepy and mysterious terror occurring in the small town of Oleander, Kansas. Unfortunately as each new page turned the story became so labored, depressing, convolved and disgusting that I had to force myself to finish it.

The book begins with multiple murders all committed on a single night. The murderers were all normal, respectable citizens and the crimes shook the community to its core. THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN ENOUGH to engage the audience and fulfill readers. Wasserman has a masterful writing style and it saddened me that so many unnecessary, disturbing events and themes were introduced, reducing the story is to a repetitive hammering home of the darkness of human nature. The murders were terrible but then added to that horror: a mystery virus that makes all residents psychotic, a tornado which destroys a huge portion of the town and the town being held hostage by a military company. Throw in some incest, near-rape, hate crimes against homosexuals and an elaborate description of the pure joy that a teen girl experiences when she uses Meth for the first time.

I don’t condone censorship but find myself questioning, who is the market for this book? The characters don’t have the depth and you don’t have the affection towards them that you would in say, a Stephen King novel. The amount of evil and violence in this book is unappealing and because it’s unnecessary to propel the story it feels false. Even fans of the horror genre are likely to be turned off by the number of storylines. On top of the murders, virus, conspiracy, drug consumption, rapes, etc. there is an overbearing message that Christians are at the foundation of the town’s problem. There seems to be “no issue left behind” writing.

Violence can be used effectively and movingly in YA horror novels. The Walking Chaos series by Patrick Ness and Rotters by Daniel Kraus are both incredibly dark and have scenes of extreme violence BUT the violence in these books elicits horror to the readers while further developing the characters and propelling the storyline. In the Waking Dark the violence felt glamorized and at times, strangely sexualized.

I really wanted to like this book. It’s the first title that I’ve read by Robin Wasserman and I greatly admire many of the writer’s who she mentions in her acknowledgments. I’m at a loss with this title.

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