Horror fans will find many classic and campy tropes but little substance.



Five high school seniors are lured into a game in which their souls are at stake.

Maxwell Cartwright Jr., who reads like a demonic cross between the Goblin King and the Jigsaw killer from the Saw film franchise, traps five classmates in his cursed house, forcing them to play his game to win their freedom and escape death. White alpha girl Ashley, white goth boy Dylan, white fashion artist Gretchen, black basketball jock Paul, and shy white Violet eventually work together to make their way through room after room of horrors, until each is forced to confront both their most shameful secrets and their swiftly approaching demise. Atwood debuts with a hefty serving of uncanny gore and alluring malevolence, but missteps and lack of development undercut the fright. Disorienting leaps from one first-person–perspective chapter to another undermine the narrative urgency, repeatedly stalling the plot so each of the five protagonists can have a turn at soliloquizing underdeveloped terror into overwritten tedium. And while some of the teens’ character-motivating secrets—right-wing Ashley’s closeted queerness and crush on nemesis Gretchen, Gretchen’s bravado-shielded shame about her poverty, and Violet’s power-disparate sexual relationship with a teacher—bring the high stakes and moral complexity horror enthusiasts expect, the rest underwhelm. Dylan’s home life as a wealthy evangelical and Paul’s wonderfully geeky love of Shakespeare feel like lazy afterthoughts in comparison.

Horror fans will find many classic and campy tropes but little substance. (Horror. 13-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61695-788-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Soho Teen

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Only for readers who are really good at suspending disbelief.


Grab an umbrella: The latest fictional civilization-ending threat is deadly rain.

Ruby’s having the best night of her life, drunkenly making out with her crush in a hot tub at a party. Suddenly, the host’s parents arrive and, panicking, drag everyone indoors. The radio broadcasts an emergency message about fatal rain. Space bacteria have entered the atmosphere on an asteroid, replicated in the clouds’ moisture and now rain death upon humanity. Just humanity, though—inexplicably, this bacteria’s apparently harmless to plants and other animals. After struggling to live through the first few days—finding uncontaminated water sources is a particular challenge—Ruby decides to travel across the country to find her father. The situation’s horrifying, but what gives the deaths resonance is how sad they are, rather than simply scary (although they are plenty gory). Ruby’s narration is unsophisticated and, especially in the beginning, self-conscious, keeping readers from immersing themselves in the story, much as the strange butterfly graphic that censors curse words does. Additionally, Ruby’s progressively vapid characterization makes her hard to root for. Her biggest redeeming trait’s her love of animals. The novel also has the usual post-apocalyptic tropes—nerdy companion, military of dubious trustworthiness, human threats, a young child to take care of and so forth. The ending is immensely unsatisfying.

Only for readers who are really good at suspending disbelief. (Post-apocalyptic adventure. 14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0654-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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A tightly plotted thriller helmed by a firecracker that never loses her spark.


Estranged best friends must come together to survive man-made threats in the harsh Alaskan wilderness.

Maddie and Logan, both white, were best friends at age 10. Maddie’s father’s job was to keep the president safe, and as the president’s son, that meant Logan too. But when Russians attempt an attack on Logan and the first lady, everything changes. Maddie’s father decides they must move somewhere with no phones, no internet, no access. Soon Maddie and Logan are thousands of miles apart, she in rural Alaska and he in the White House. For six years there’s no contact; Maddie spends two years writing to him with no response. She becomes skilled in the ways of the wilderness, her anger at Logan building. His perspective highlights a privileged, reckless life, leading the president to administer a unique punishment: staying with Maddie and her father in Alaska. But Logan brings dangerous baggage with him, and with her father away for the night, it’s up to Maddie to keep them both safe. Maddie’s grit, humor, and cleverness make her an engaging action hero. Logan’s less dynamic, hyperfocused on ensuring Maddie’s safety when she’s not the one who needs saving. Fans of survivalist fiction will be impressed by the well-researched, immersive Alaskan landscape and all its beauty and brutality.

A tightly plotted thriller helmed by a firecracker that never loses her spark. (Thriller. 14-17)

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-13414-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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