Posts Tagged Teen

“Open Wounds” by Brandon Ford — Dark, Twisted Fiction

CoverBF01It’s not very often that I get to compare classic books to their modern brethren (and enjoy them, I guess I should add), so when I received Open Wounds by Brandon Ford, I wasn’t expecting what I got. What I’d been promised was “horror” but what I got instead was something dark, twisted, without any sort of supernatural beings in it and seemed absolutely true.

Let me reiterate: it’s billed as horror, but it could be any teenage girl’s everyday life.

That’s scary. Really, really scary.

Kate Montgomery was your ordinary 14 year old girl when her parents divorced. Her father, who started drinking, became violent one day and hit his wife, Kate’s mother. Soon afterwards, Kate is forced to move cross-country with her mother, away from the only life she has ever known, and into the old haunts and streets of her mother’s childhood neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Jobless and without any sort of training, Kate’s mother is forced to find work at a dive bar. Meanwhile, Kate struggles at school and tries to fit in. But a dark specter looms over the family past as Kate becomes very nervous and uncomfortable around her grandfather, a sullen and quiet man. This all is depressing, true, but this is all nothing compared to the Hell that awaits her when her mother brings home a new boyfriend.

Without giving too much away, I can say that Kate’s mom’s new boyfriend is a very evil man. He drags Kate and her mom down into a dark, hellish pit of despair and hopelessness, one that Kate sees but cannot escape. Her life continues to get worse and worse as every imaginable horror is heaped upon her, crushing her spirit and her psyche. She becomes a “cutter” and begins to leaves angry scars on her legs and thighs.

When I read this, I was instantly reminded of the 1971 classic Go Ask Alice. However, Open Wounds leaves little to the imagination as the reader is assaulted with the pure agony of Kate’s life, her struggle to remain human, and her loss of faith and family. It’s gritty, realistic and terribly frightening… and, quite frankly, perfect. I mean, it’s a horrifying story, but I think that’s what makes it so damned good. I don’t know from what dark, personal hell Brandon Ford dug this from, but he needs to tap into this reservoir more often. This is, by far, the best thing of his I’ve ever read.

The pacing is rock solid, not too fast, and builds steadily towards a satisfying climax. The character of Kate is empathetic, endearing, and achingly sad, and it pains the reader to see her go through all that she has to. The secondary characters are complex and chilling, even Kate’s best friend. The setting (late 70s’-early 80’s Philadelphia) seems to straddle the fence between gritty reality and a product of the author’s mind.

In the end, the story triumphs over all else, and leaves the reader thoroughly satisfied with Kate and her story. This book is a definite must-buy for any fan of the teen genre, or anyone else who likes a chilling, dark novel.

How good is it, one asks? Well, I sat down to read just one chapter before I went to bed, and ended up reading the entire book in just one setting.

Buy it. Read it. See what I’m talking about.

Grade: A

–Review by Jason


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Variant — The Perfect YA Teen Book

It is already the top contender for Book of the Year for me.

There are books that come along every once in awhile and hit you with a proverbial mallet, screaming “I’m an amazing book!” Then there are the books that sneak up on you and you only realize afterwards just how good it was.

This book somehow does both, and yet I am still glad for it.

Variant (Robison Wells, HarperTeen) starts off typically enough. Benson Fisher teenage boy who has lived a life in foster care is moving to a private school on a full scholarship and is quite taken by the mysterious nature of things. However, he soon realizes that there is much more going on when he is informed that there are no teachers or adults at this school; in fact, there are only four rules one must follow. Other than that, the schoolkids are on their own.

There are three groups in the school: Society, the kids who follow the rules to the letter of the law; Havoc, the rebel kids who act more like a street gang than anything else; and Variant, the group which does not fit into any of the other groups. Benson is quickly grabbed by Society as they try to recruit him to their ranks. A scuffle shortly breaks out and soon he is fighting against both Society and Havoc, having joined Variant despite his early misgivings of the group. He then learns about point system, the uneasy truce between the three groups and the strange things that go on at the Maxfield Academy.

The story is extremely fast paced, with Benson dodging both Havoc and Society as he makes his desire to escape known. More and more of the kids begin to alienate him as they remind him that he’s never had it “so good”. Benson, though, becomes torn as he realizes that he has feelings for one of his classmates, which could interfere with his escape attempts.

Then everything changes as a whole new angle takes place.

This book… wow. Just wow. I was engaged by the author from the moment I started reading and, the further I was into the book, the better the writing became. The characters were very layered and meaningful, nobody seemed to be a cardboard cutout of a stereotypical teen (or if they were, the more you got to know them the deeper they became) and the absolute gut-wrenching twist at the end makes you wonder just who is who and what is what.

I couldn’t get enough of this. I kept babbling to others just how amazing this book is, and I am very glad I waited to review this book at the start of 2012. There’s nothing like having one of my new favorite five books to kick off a new year, right?

Best of all: this is a YA-appropriate teen book with plenty of action, suspense and mystery in it with quasi-romance — enough to fit both the teen boy and teen girl’s reading requirements.

Buy this book. Don’t loan it out, though, because your friends will steal it and you’ll have to buy a replacement copy.

Reviewed by Jason

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