Written by Cullen Bunn
Release Date: May 7, 2011
I cannot think of a more difficult genre to write in then young adult horror. On one hand you have to maintain an element of fright and suspense to keep the genre true to its form. On the other hand as a writer you have to carefully construct frightening scenarios as to not traumatize young readers (at least not too much).
Cullen Bunn seems to have found that sweet spot with his latest young adult horror novel Crooked Hills. What Cullen Bunn has done here is create something that is often scary and nerve wracking, but at its core a testament to the spirit of childhood adventure.
Crooked Hills follows the story of Charlie, a young man who is taken from his home in the suburbs to visit his aunt and uncle in Crooked Hills, Missouri. Charlie feeling out of his element latches onto the urban legends surrounding the town, which has been labeled â€œthe most haunted town in America.â€ Charlie soon meets his cousin Marty who is an adventurous Ozarks native. As Charlie and his little brother Alex explore Crooked Hills with Marty, they soon begin to realize that some urban legends are not legends at all. When local town legend Maddie Someday appears in ghostly form, Alex goes missing and it is up to Charlie, Marty, and their slingshot-wielding friend Lisa to save Alex from certain doom.
Cullen Bunn is the creator of comics The Damned and also The Sixth Gun, currently out with Oni Press, so needless to say he knows how to craft a great horror story. With Crooked Hill Bunn manages to take this knowledge and inject it into every chapter. Each chapter of Crooked Hills reads like the comic books that Bunn is so familiar with and as we reach the closing pages of almost every chapter Bunn throws something new and shocking in our direction. From leaping tarantulas to missing siblings Crooked Hills is carefully crafted to ignite the curiosity in its readers and becomes a page-turner. As the story progresses we are introduced to ghouls and ghosts of every type and Bunn seems to make it a point not to hold back on the fright element and has crafted some very scary scenes.
Crooked Hills is not for the timid young adult reader, but it also does a very good job of creating the illusion of horror and not relying on grisly details that would not be suitable for kids.
Crooked Hills is full of enough chills to keep the most seasoned young adult fright junkie entertained, but in that it is not where the magic of this book fully exists. Underneath the overall theme of spookiness lays a book about adventure and the thrill of childhood. Bunn captures the wonder in every tree and hidden pond in this small Missouri town. As Charlie and his cousin Marty dive deeper into the Ozarks the excitement of the journey only builds. It is in these moments that Crooked Hills shines, in the spirit of movies like The Goonies and E.T where every day is a new adventure. Bunn also laces Crooked Hills with themes like the importance of friendship and family, the pain of loss, and the sorrow of letting go. Each theme is treated as a sacred rite into childhood and manages to fit within the story perfectly, as Charlie and Marty grow as friends they also grow as young men.
Crooked Hills is going to be marketed as the kind of book that you and your kids can read around Halloween and get a good scare from. This of course is true, but Crooked Hills offers so much more as well. What Bunn has created is something that can be appreciated by kids and adults alike. Crooked hills is not only a fantastic all ages horror book, but also an adventure story that reminds us of the magic that is childhood.