Commentary: IT by Stephen King

This is not a review because how do you review something so epic? This is an expanded version of my thoughts and comments on one of my all-time favorite novels. Beyond top 5, this is top 3.

I re-read IT for the second time during January 2019 as part of a readalong hosted on instagram by Luke (luke.at.what.im.reading) and I decided to annotate my copy. Currently, that consists of a few hundred tabs. Eventually, it will also be notes in the margins. I have my pristine hardback, and I’ll have my well-loved and destroyed paperback to remind myself what I loved.

The tabs: hot pink was general quotes I liked, usually those from the narrator not a specific character; orange was Bev moments/quotes (of course); yellow was Bill moments/quotes; green was Ben moments/quotes; blue was Mike moments/quotes; light purple was things about IT and the other entities as well as the plot moments that paid off later; and dark purple was anything the other characters did. Looking back if I had another color I probably would have done one for Richie too – I’ll explain why later.

The Losers…the first time you read this book I think it’s the love triangle of Bev, Bill, and Ben that stays in your mind. Bill is an overwhelming character and this is mostly his story so when you step away that’s what you remember. The second time around I assigned a specific color to Mike because of the role he played, not because I remembered the Interludes or how much of the voice of the story belongs to him. Mike gets so under-utilized in the adaptations and it made me feel brand new disappointment with the new one. They stole his story and I’m just going to say that I think there was a racial element to that decision, unconscious or otherwise. Why would they take this amazing representation of a young black male in the 60’s who had a strong, supportive nuclear family and make him an orphan being raised by a toxic family member? That just makes my skin crawl. Mike’s story deserved better, and I am hoping the second movie does better by him.

Richie is also so much more than I remembered. He was the funny guy, the mouth, but I forgot how much heart he has too. The adventures that are just Richie and Bill, and how much Richie loves him, are lovely. Richie also plays a lot bigger role in the defeat of IT than he gets credit for in the 60s, and he basically saves all their butts in the 80s. Of all the Losers, I think Richie is one of the most self-aware. He knows who he is and that he struggles to control parts of himself – but also knows those parts will develop into something more. And damn does he love his friends.

One of the things I was seeing during the readalong was people’s discomfort with the racism and violence toward gay men, specifically, and discussing whether or not those scenes and how they were written was necessary. Horror, and most especially Stephen King, hold up a mirror to the monsters we really are. The racial and homophobic violence are written to be taking place 60 and 30 years ago – but how familiar did those scenarios sound? The violence, vitriol, and hatred experienced by Mike and his family, experienced by Adrian, are things that still happen to this day. Are you uncomfortable with those scenes? GOOD. It means you are experiencing cognitive dissonance that the world is not different, and that we are uncomfortable because these things are still happening. This kind of violence is still in King’s recent books because we haven’t fixed anything. My discomfort with those scenes came from a place of fear and pain because it reminds me the world is not much better, and that there’s still work I can be doing to improve it.

It’s also why I love the tiny glimpses we get into Victor Criss. We want to believe we’d be Bill and stand up, but a lot of times – we’re Victor. Something feels wrong and we know things might have gone too far, but we don’t know how to break out of our pattern and confront the Henry Bowers that we meet in our lives. We don’t know how to confront, change, or break away from toxic people. If only he had, eh?

Since the first time I read this book, I have become a lot more informed, maybe even an expert, at issues related to socio-sexual power dynamics, abuse, trauma, and relationship violence. All of that information changed the way I saw Bev’s journey in IT and The Scene.

Listen, it is weird. I can also have the conversation about whether or not it was necessary as a way to reconnect the Losers. It definitely makes me uncomfortable and it’s not because of cognitive dissonance, it’s because we have to think about what sex means, and what sex means to an uninformed young person running on fear and instinct.

Bev’s journey is about the way we prematurely sexualize young girls – the second their body develops, even though their brain has not, they stop being a child and become an object. Bev is treated like a sexual being and doesn’t even realize that’s what’s happening – people make assumptions about her actions and emotions based on her body. Think about the way Bev loved Bill – it was innocent, it wasn’t physical – and the ability of the group to be friends with each other without complications. There was an awareness that Bev was a girl, and different, and a potential object for EMOTIONAL affection – but none of them thought about sex because that’s not where the brains of children go. They go to a totally different kind of love.

Controlling the sexuality of a young girl was also clearly there when it comes to the way Bev’s father treats her. He exerted fairly total control over his family, and there is always something about a maturing girl that is a little bit wild. I like to believe it’s because we are suddenly filled with the potential for creation (which is not necessarily sexual) and it scares people who are obsessed with power and control. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that he also exercised power and control over his wife – I think she could see what was coming for Bev and was going to try and do what she could to protect her, or stop it before too much happened. Bev is raw power and potential, growing into something beautiful. It’s so easy to knock that down, and when you look at the rest of her life’s journey – they succeeded. She dated and married men who only wanted to suffocate her because that was what she knew.

So when we go back to her childhood and her confusion over her father’s obsession with something that is not even on her mind, it makes Bev contemplate physical love and it’s ties to emotional love. When the Scene happens, it is Bev taking absolute control of her body and her power. In that moment, the only person influencing her decision was her. To her, the physical act was only an act of love and connection, not this dark, furtive thing it would become. The person with the power was Bev, and she made the choice to use it. It’s still extremely weird, but it’s ultimately empowering. It was an act of love.

Still unnecessary, but from a narrative standpoint it is in line with the rest of her journey.

This second time around also reminded me of one of the best quotes, and my friend Brad was nice enough to make an image of it for me.

Chances are that “people who build their houses in your heart” is going to end up tattooed on my body.

Anyway, IT is always a 5 star read for me, and this second time around it blew me away all over again how staggeringly good it is. I was an emotional wreck. I can barely even think of IT as a horror novel. People who are focused on Pennywise the Clown without understanding what the clown is, or that the story is SO MUCH BIGGER than that drive me crazy. It’s about love and friendship, and the things that make the world worth surviving in. I’ll probably wait a few years before I read it again, so I’ll have forgotten just enough for the journey to feel fresh again.

Review: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

4 stars!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White was my first read of 2019! It was a birthday gift from BG friends and I dove in immediately.

From GoodReads:

“Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.”

To start, this book is fucked up.

The concept is what is the story of the sidekick – we know Victor and his story told different ways over and over – but what about the people who facilitated his madness? In that context, Elizabeth is insanely frustrating. You can nearly feel the constraints of society and her position holding back this brilliant, almost cruel, young woman. What she would be in that time if she were a man is heartbreaking. Still, you see her manipulate the expectations of her position to find her own kind of power. There are parts that are meant to make you feel an aversion to Elizabeth – the way she has of looking at and evaluating people for their usefulness to her – but that same trait makes it even more devastating when the things she does care about are hurt or damaged. Elizabeth is complicated – and she’s also very young. Some of the things she does betray a kind of naivete that makes her lovable, even at her most terrible.

Victor is a total dickwad. He is an amalgam of all the worst kinds of abusive men in this world and honestly, doesn’t get what he deserved in the end. That might be my own bloodthirst talking though. Actually most of the human men in this book are total dickwads, and some meet fairly grisly ends. It’s kind of satisfying even if that also makes me a monster. The women in the book are treated accurately for the time period – as objects and achievements. It’s fun to see the many different ways in which that expectation can be ignored from Elizabeth, Justine, and Mary. All three have been hurt by the world they were born into, and all three found ways to be happy even if the happiness was short-lived or intermittent.

This book is relatively short, which is, I think, one of it’s few frustrations. The ending felt a little rushed and I didn’t get time to settle with certain events or characters before it was quite suddenly over. Hints are dropped in the last few chapters that make the twist a little more obvious, but I wanted more time.

If you already like Kiersten White, you’re going to like this book. If you like books with complicated, dynamic women, you’re going to like this book. If you really deeply love the original Frankenstein, I don’t know if you’ll like this book. The book is well-written, sharp, cruel, and accusatory. It’s also a little bit gross so if you have issues with body horror or really accurately described gross smells, this maybe isn’t for you.

This was a 4 star read for me – something felt like it was missing even though I enjoyed myself. But honestly a 4 star read for White is basically a 5 star for any other author, so you know it’s a good book.

Review: the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

So, I took a break from reviews for all of 2018 – a lot was happening. I got pregnant, got a new job, moved to a new state, and then had a baby a whole month early. Everyone is happy and healthy, but it means some things take a pause. However, in 2019 I am back on the review train. I’ll be posting smaller version to GoodReads, and longer reviews here. Add me there if we aren’t friends!

First review of the year – the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. I blasted through this December 1-3, 2018 as part of a @kingbuddyreads readalong. It is definitely in my top 10, maybe even my top 5, books by King.

From GoodReads:

Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland strays from the path while she and her recently divorced mother and brother take a hike along a branch of the Appalachian Trail. Lost for days, wandering farther and farther astray, Trisha has only her portable radio for comfort. A huge fan of Tom Gordon, a Boston Red Sox relief pitcher, she listens to baseball games and fantasizes that her hero will save her. Nature isn’t her only adversary, though – something dangerous may be tracking Trisha through the dark woods.

First, the language here is gorgeous. King dips more into the poetic than usual, which I think is easier to do when you’re talking about nature. There were so many vivid lines that made me feel like I was there which was thrilling, even if claustrophobic and terrifying at times.

Trisha is also well-rendered, and we don’t see King do vulnerable tween girls as often as we get younger boys. She’s so tough and doesn’t know it, which is probably why she survives the way that she does out in the woods. I also appreciated the moment when she was emotionally okay with being out and alone, and she was proud of herself for surviving at all. I think it’s good to see characters recognize that they are whole on their own, and Trisha has that moment in the woods.

Second, back to language – there is a rare efficiency of language in TGWLTG that we don’t get from our loquacious King very often. I think the book was almost geared toward a YA audience which might have led to the shorter novel, but there are times in other novels where you kind of wish King had a pickier editor because as much as I love his works they get a bit bloated. Probably because he is who he is and people will read it anyway, but the tightness of the writing and storytelling in fewer words in this book appealed to me. It was as if I got to see another side to this author who is so prolific you think you know what to expect. I was surprised here, and I loved that.

The enemy – and I say enemy, not necessarily villain – is also excellent. I understand enough at the end to get why things ended the way they did, but I am also left with questions that I can live with going unanswered. It’s a very primal story. Trisha’s fight to survive with no enemy would have been strong enough on it’s own, and I thought that’s where it was going for the first half of the story, but it was this extra piece that upped the tension. At the end, you’d understand if the enemy wins. Not because evil triumphs, but because it’s how nature works. The fight between Trisha and the thing that watches is ultimately fundamental. That was fun to read. I’m being vague on the enemy because spoilers would really spoil this book.

This was a 5 star read for me, obviously, and probably one of the more accessible books for non-King or vague-King fans. It was one I actually thought to myself – my father-in-law would like this. He’s generally not a horror person, there’s just something about it I think he’d appreciate. A definite recommended read.

Review: Within These Walls

When you move into a house where a cult murder occurred to write about the murder, it can’t end well. A review of Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn. (4/5)

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn was released in April 2015, and I read it December 8, 2017. I basically ignored all other responsibilities I had on Friday to finish this book. Particularly with horror/thriller novels I am not good at reading them in pieces as the tension doesn’t dissipate for me when I close the book to go do other things. Anyway, I binged this and it was great.

A summary from Amazon:

How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

Warning, this is going to be slightly spoilery.

One of the strongest parts of the novel for me was Vee – she’s normal. Normal in the sense that she’s struggling, angsty, a bit morbid, and trying find where she fits in. I was especially disturbed at the role she played in the novel because she is so much younger than the people Halcomb recruited and influenced at only 12. It made sense because it meant it would be even easier to manipulate a child on the cusp of adolescence who had no life experience to give her any doubts at all. At first, I was actually disappointed in her. About 3/4 through the book I was just thinking “ugh, why? This does not seem in character.” But then when I thought about the way living in that house and the influences within it were impacting both Vee and Lucas, it made sense that Vee would not take a minute to second guess what was happening to her. Sometimes I forgot Vee was only 12, but I don’t think others in the novel did which also led to the authenticity of her voice and responses – I too, would have loved to be left alone all the time when I was 12 and was not allowed to do so.

Lucas made me feel all sorts of ways. I understood what it felt like to disappear inside writing and time passes and you don’t notice it or forget to eat or break promises. But he was so aware of it and kept doing it anyway – he knew that things weren’t right in that house, that something was wrong, and opened himself up to being taken over. While It’s clear Halcomb still had influence and was dangerous, Lucas is at fault, in the long run. He lies, he hedges, he procrastinates, and he acts selfishly. On a spectrum of good father to bad father, he lands on the bad father end of the spectrum.

The atmosphere is SO FANTASTIC. I feel a little bit shamed for my immediate love of the old school retro house with conversation pit living room that everyone made fun of, but I also felt like I could picture the house really well. I could picture why the shadows were creepy. The atmosphere was just right in terms of the house being isolated, the house being a special location that caused the characters would question if something was real or not, and the way each character’s own specific fears were well articulated. Ahlborn describes their fears in a multi-sensation way that it’s easier for the fear to come off the page, and reminds the reader that the characters are always being watched. If they are in that house, they are never alone. It’s very creepy.

Any fan of horror, who has even a passing interest in cults, will enjoy this book. I appreciated the point that people aren’t aware they are joining a cult when they do. That’s kind of the point – you don’t know what’s happening until you’re too stuck to get out.

I would also love to read about young Jeffrey Halcomb and his time in Veldt, KS. I have so many questions, and the origins of the cult leader was one of the parts of the book that intrigued me the most. I’m often more interested in the origins of the criminal than in the crimes themselves.

Overall, I give Within These Walls 4/5 for being eerie and dark and making me say “Oh no!” to the ending. And that there was an extra twist at the that I wasn’t expecting. Abandon hope, anyone who reads this, and prepare to walk into darkness. This was my first Ania Ahlborn that I got from the library, and I will be checking out the others on the shelves.

Book Talk – the Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee

The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee came out on April 1, 2016 and I read it August 15-16, 2017.

A synopsis, from Amazon:

In a house built on truth something lays hidden. Beth and Stu Davenport moved to the English hillside town of Meadowford Bridge to give their young son, Gabriel, an idyllic, rural childhood. But in a single evening, the Davenports’ dream is shattered by a hidden, ancient darkness– and their lives are forever changed. Years later, Gabriel Davenport, now a capable, curious young man, makes the ill-fated decision to go looking for answers about his mysterious past. As soon as he begins his quest, his life becomes a place of shadows. The people he loves and trusts are acting abnormally. The strange woman who lives upstairs is even more haunted than usual. Even his most trusted friend seems to be hiding something. As one fateful night deepens, and the line blurs between darkness and light, Gabriel must confront the terrible events that destroyed his family all those years ago. He is faced with a choice: continue living the life that was never his to begin with, or give himself over to a terrifying new reality more sinister than anything he’s ever known. The darkness is watching.


This book is part ghost/haunted house, part demonic threat, and part vampire stories. It makes for a satisfying read because if you like the horror genre, a lot of boxes are ticked by this novel. I have still been itching for a good haunted house story and the almost haunted houseness of this book made that itch even worse.

But it brings me to one of my favorite things about this book: the setting. Setting is one of my own biggest weaknesses, so I pay close attention to the people who do it well. Lee does it very well. It starts with the Davenport house, but it’s also capturing the spirit of the village, of the shape of the roads, and the distance between neighbors. The real success is the Manor though; the house is a character in itself as much as it is a setting – the house itself is almost as possessed, as manipulated, and as broken as any of the people who inhabit it during the course of the story. Houses, dwellings, are always safer than we think they are, and the Manor learns that it is not invulnerable, and that secrets rarely stay buried. The Manor is also part of the character of Edward Carver, and the secrets the house reveals are either Carver’s own, or hurt him the most. This is definitely a story about secrets – the real and the supernatural kind – and the consequences for thinking keeping them is the best course of action.

The other thing I loved about this book was the eponymous Gabriel Davenport. He is a perfect depiction of that liminal space between child and young adult – he believes that he is ready to know the truth about what happened when he was a baby and that he can handle it, while simultaneously being terrified that he cannot. He’s also young enough and has lived such a life that he is aware of his emotions, aware of his fear, and sometimes he even finds the strength to overcome it and do the right thing. I enjoyed the chapters that were in his perspective the most because he was the least damaged in traditional ways (the damage we acquire upon growing up, and the loss of innocence) – Gabriel is ultimately still innocent, but has also been carrying an enormous burden and sense of blame his entire life which is a unique kind of damage. It made him easy to care for, and easy to empathize with.

The only character that ultimately frustrated me was Noah Isaacs, but I wonder what will be resolved with him in the next book, A Shining in the Shadows. One of the subtle questions that Making asks is what power faith has – and not just the religious kind, but the faith we place in other people. Noah’s religious faith is tested, even fails, and that effects the faith the other characters have in him. It’s about the faith the Gabriel has in Carver and Noah to “solve the problem” and save him, and when he begins to doubt that they can, he trusts someone that maybe he shouldn’t.

It’s a book with a very unique family unit, and it is both their strength and their vulnerability. It’s hard to see anything coming in this story, and I liked that a lot. I am definitely curious about what happens next.

If you like moody, scary, semi-violent horror novels then the Making of Gabriel Davenport is definitely for you.

 

Review: the Women in the Walls

When I was reading this book I kept thinking, “I need an adult!”

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics was released September 27, 2016 and I read it December 5-7, 2016. Weirdly enough, I think I can consider this a holiday-appropriate reading choice as the conclusion of the story revolves around a Christmas party. Someone is even wearing a tinsel and ornament dress.


From Amazon:
Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

For those who might need it – trigger warnings for significant self-harm, suicide, mental illness, and general gore and violence.

Things that gave me feelings:

  • Lucy’s father is a bastard.
  • This is another one of those novels that affirms how much people suck, how self-centered we can be, and how we never really know anyone in our lives. There are just too many secrets, too many scattered and errant thoughts that start to change us or eat us alive to ever really say we know someone.
  • This book can get really scary because you doubt what you know, and everyone becomes suspect. It’s made clear very early that the Acosta family is exceptionally secretive and isolated, and that no one comes into their home or interacts with anyone else without motive.

While I agree with Lucy’s eventual realization that she gets caught up in herself and can be a little judgmental, I also think she might be too hard on herself. This poor girl is so clearly abused into submission, and it’s done in partnership by her two parental figures. No one really cares about her – she is just a tool. The interactions between Margaret and Lucy are especially heartbreaking because they are cousins, friends, but the thumb under which they function has twisted even that one good thing in their lives. Margaret is hella sassy though and I enjoyed her. I wish she had been used more to call out the bullshit – Margaret was the Id to Lucy’s Ego, and it would have been fun to see more of that go wild.

Justine Larbalestier recently posted a tweet:

“How to write a novel: create shitty situation for your protag. Make it worse. Worser. Now REALLY make it worse. Resolve that shit. #theEnd”

That is pretty much how things for for Lucy, except true to horror form the resolution may actually be worse than anything else that has happened to her. The end is a big, gaping tunnel of mouth screaming “No!” for eternity. There are so many layers to why the ending is so awful, in general and for Lucy in particular. It was just devastating. But it’s also the source of one of my dislikes with this novel – why? Why did Lucy give in to the ending? Why would she stay?

Everyone is the villain in this story. There’s this sense while reading that there is no safe place – no person, no room, not even in sleep. The tension just builds and builds until all the shit hits the fan and then it gets weirder and weirder. I was less scared of the Big Bad at the end than I expected, and part of it is because…well, some of the shit that happened was justified. The Big Bad might be the only one who was justified to do anything, which is interesting to consider – the primal, ancient dangers that still lurk around us and how their violence can be acceptable.

I still have a lot of questions about why things went the way they did, and I can’t quite say this was a five star read for me. Lucy was clearly intelligent and aware of how dire the situation was and yet…nothing. Maybe it’s commentary on the fact that humans often talk ourselves out of the facts that are smacking us in the face and it’s easy to play them down or talk ourselves out of it, or say if something else happens or waiting for arbitrary reasons, we are punished by life itself.

From a purely technical sense, I was confused by some of the structure and I don’t think it was intentional. Chapters would start with Lucy’s narration as if a lot of time had passed, or as if she’d been bothered by a certain event or feeling for a period of time, and then we would jump from narration to action and I would find zero time had passed between the end of one chapter and the start of the next, or only a handful of hours. The sense of time was not what it needed to be in some chapters, and it kind of broke the feeling of urgency that was built. Luckily, it was built up again in quick fashion, but it still jerked me out of the narrative because I was asking questions about structure rather than plot.

I definitely want to read Lukavics’s first novel, Daughters Unto Devils, and will absolutely pick up her work in the future. She is a fresh, frightening, wickedly macabre and morbid voice and it seems that the women she writes have something to say. Or something to destroy.  The Women in the Walls was 4/5.

Review: Be Not Afraid

Marin can see people’s pain, but looking inside a classmate’s head she sees a blackness inside that might be something…else. Be Not Afraid by Cecilia Galante (4/5)

Be Not Afraid by Cecilia Galante was published in 2015; I read it November 24, 2016.

This book is definitely scary, and I think very different from Galante’s other writing. In her author bio it’s indicated that this is her first YA/Horror novel, and I am curious if she will return to the genre.


Be Not Afraid is the story of a teen girl named Marin who develops the ability to see people’s pain inside their bodies after a personal tragedy. In a new town and a new school she is tricked into completing a ritual with her classmate Cassie that leads to scarier consequences than either could have foreseen. Now everyone is in danger, Marin must face her past and her present, and along with Cassie’s brother Dominic she needs to find a way to use her ability to save lives.

I do want to give potential readers trigger warnings for eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. This book, even with a happy-ish ending, is incredibly dark. It’s also very real – I don’t think the pain is put in this novel for sadistic purposes, but to reflect real life.

If you are not into possession stories, this is not the book for you. It also relies heavily on Catholic doctrine and theology in regard to possession and exorcism, but isn’t so specific that someone unfamiliar with the religion would be confused about what’s going on. It is both a classic possession story, and one with it’s own spin given the fact that Marin’s ability allows her to not only see the demon inside, but see the physical injury the demon has inflicted.There is also a lot of contemplation about belief, blessings, and purpose. It doesn’t feel overly preachy, but like the thought and growth process someone who has been raised in a mostly devout household might experience as they grow up.

Marin’s ability to see pain is unique, and I enjoy that it’s source is only theorized and never definitively explained. Marin’s family is struggling and grieving, and is such an accurate depiction of loss that it kind of hurts to read. When people are grieving, they often blame themselves even when it doesn’t make sense, and when we’re struggling we sometimes shirk responsibilities that we shouldn’t have. I could have read a book just about Marin and her family, minus the pain-seeing and possession, because it’s compelling, and very, very real for so many people.

I was honestly scared in parts because as a person who was raised a certain kind of Catholic (I now consider myself lapsed), possession was taught to you as a real thing, and something that especially afflicted children. Even without that, some of this is just scary because the possessed character is so unpredictable, and we have a protagonist who often gives into her fear and panic and runs away, damn the consequences.

The thing I didn’t like is kind of oddly specific. I didn’t like that Marin had a crush on Dominic before all of this started. While I enjoyed their relationship, I think it would have been more powerful to me had they found romantic feelings for each other during the kind of crazy journey of this novel (because it’s about so much more than the possession.) Before the present events, Dominic was there for a really humiliating moment in Marin’s life and I just don’t see a crush being developed or sustained from that. It was nice to see how much both characters changed and learned and felt for each other, but Marin’s struggle right from the beginning about saying no to him didn’t feel totally in-sync with the rest of her characterization.

Lucy was also under-utilized. It’s a little…stereotypical for the introvert/shut off main character, and it can get frustrating to read someone who is so open and caring being denied for almost no reason.

Overall, this was a creepy read that wasn’t like other possession novels I’ve read. It’s not so scary you’re going to be afraid after, but it was a book that I wanted to read in one sitting so I had a resolution right away to process. I’m rating Be Not Afraid a 4/5, with the note to self that I would read another Galante horror novel.