By Cynthia Ayala
In Gardnerville, no one ever gets sick and no one ever dies. But there is price for this small utopia. Every four years the town exacts a payment for its gifts, a payment in the form of infecting teens with deadly urges and even deadlier powers. Four years ago, Skylar’s sister, Piper, was the collector, and now it seems the town is haunting Skylar. Skylar knows what she must do: return Gardnerville back into a docile normal town or risk being the killer herself.
It’s a thrilling read that’s for certain as it centers around this small perfect little town. But the haunting aspect of it is the fact that it’s not perfect at all. There are fissures around this town that threaten it’s stability, and they are perfectly constructed by Quinn in this novel. The story layers in upon itself as it centers around Skylar’s desperate need to find her sister who was taken away for sending her class down to the depths to drown and die. But her narrative—Skylar’s—is so stuck in the past that she is unable to move forward, much like everyone in the town. The town is haunted by the ghosts of the past, by the markings on their children every four years. It’s an inescapable cycle that the people, while they choose to ignore, can’t forget. It’s tough, but it’s also very real in that aspect that the things humans would like to ignore more, haunt us every day.
With that emotion behind the novel, and the supernatural aspect, there is also the fact that Skylar is very much an unreliable narrator. She’s a druggie who takes these special pills to forget the past and the sense of longing she has to find her sister. But with the pills come blackouts that force both the reader and the character to navigate through the past, through the pain and the longing to move past it. Those emotions bring to a sense of realism to the story as a whole as it ventures to explore the supernatural aspect of holding onto the past while simultaneously fighting so hard to forget it.
There is a lot of depth in the novel that build of the layering of the storytelling which goes from chapter to chapter, interrupted by montages of the past (highlighted by memorable 80’s hits) that give the reader a little more depth on the relationship Skylar had with herself and her sister. By combining the past with the present, the story expands until it finally explodes into this mind-blowing moment that is certain to throw the reader. But it makes sense. All the rising tension and the layers of emotion in the story mix together so well, and the supernatural element works as fodder for the final catalyst of the novel. It’s gripping, it’s haunting, and it makes the reader look back and search inside themselves which always makes for excellent writing because like the past, this novel with haunt you in all the best ways. (★★★★☆ |A)