Stefan Petrucha & Thomas Pendleton,
Wicked Dead: Torn
(HarperTeen, 2007)

If this book is any indication, the Wicked Dead series is a wonderful addition to the young-adult horror genre. Not only is Torn a compelling little novel, there's actually a really good premise linking all of the books in the series. A group of young female ghosts are trapped, along with their horrible headmistress, at Lockwood Orphanage, and the only way they can escape is by "throwing the bones" -- taking turns telling chilling stories and hoping they will hit upon their own forgotten stories, for that is the only way for them to get their spirits released.

Torn is just one of many unknown teenaged rock bands hoping to hit the big time -- except Torn actually has a chance to do just that. Lead singer Cody will do whatever it takes to be a star, whether that means borrowing money from a dangerous gang or insisting that the struggling bass player be thrown out of the band.

One Word Ben is something of an undeveloped character, but he seems to be pretty well ensconced on Cody's coattails. Devin, for his part, is just enjoying the experience more than anything else -- he doesn't dream of stardom, but he doesn't exactly recoil from the sound of applause for Torn's debut gig down at Tunnel Vision, either. The fact that his girlfriend Cheryl plays drums in the band is a definite plus for him as well. Still, despite the group's first signs of success, Devin is uneasy. Part of it is the fact that he's too nice a guy to simply throw his buddy Karston under the bus despite Cody's insistence that he do so. The rest of it, though, is something else entirely -- something increasingly unnatural.

Torn's newest song soon takes on a life (and then a few deaths) of its own. Devin was inspired to write it by an old lullaby his Namana used to sing to him when he was a child. It's not what you would call a happy song, as the original lullaby basically explains the severe consequences of childish misbehavior -- but that just gives the new tune a haunting air that increases exponentially when the killings begin. By the time a second band member is killed, the story of the "haunted song" quickly approaches legendary status -- thanks in no small part to a most intriguing and surreal live performance video making the rounds among local teens.

Having glimpsed the monster responsible for the deaths -- a monster he himself cannot even begin to explain to authorities or his remaining band mates -- Devin begins to fear that his song has somehow unleashed something from the outside, a boogeyman such as that described in his Namana's original lullaby.

The authors, Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton, do a great job of building suspense and introducing some wholly natural complications to the plot, as well. It's far from clear exactly who or what is executing these vicious killings until late in the story, and one never knows who will be the next to die. There is a certain level of ambiguity to the ending, but this is still a strong, compelling read that seems custom-made for the growing young-adult horror genre. This Wicked Dead series is definitely one to watch.

book review by
Daniel Jolley

24 July 2010

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