Set against the backdrop of the modern American South, Reese’s supernatural coming-of-age tale brims with horror and revenge.
It’s Lydia Cantrell’s 10th birthday, and her wealthy family has thrown a party for the kids of Sherman’s March, Ga. While the children are having a good time, Lydia’s father, Frank, is held up on his way to the event by a mysterious young girl to whom he offers a ride. After the party, with indefinable evil lurking inside him, Frank rapes his daughter. The novel then jumps forward two years to the summer before Lydia’s freshman year of high school. Lydia, now shy and academic, dons a teenage goth style, and her father still sexually abuses her with regularity. Her mother drugs herself to escape the hellish existence that life has become for the Cantrells. Though mocked by her peers and tormented by her family, Lydia has one bright spot in life—Michael, with whom she has a blossoming though tentative romance. However, as the young heroine turns to self-harm and Marilyn Manson as a means of escape, she makes a startling discovery: someone, or something, has given her the ability to control fire. Diary entries from the 19th century, written by one of Lydia’s relatives, are spliced into the text in a relatively weak effort to impart some sense of Southern history to the work. These sections, mostly concerned with the rage of a forgotten lover in the antebellum South, mirror Lydia’s darker story and provide the reader with a historical precedent of the family’s pyrokinetic ability. Occasionally, distracting lines—“That was the Lydia he loved, not Crabzilla the PMS Princess”—crop up to provide neither comic relief nor add any realism to the character’s mentalities; the result causes the short narrative to stumble as it trots along to a familiar-feeling finale. But there are some admirable qualities: For all its faults, the horror story will have readers eagerly turning pages to see just how Lydia’s revenge will play out. The truly shocking moments come early in the text, though, and a tendency to stray too far from the already short narrative may bother readers who feel that the extremely weighty issues raised aren’t given enough care or concern from an emotional or psychological standpoint.
A page-turning horror story with a few legitimate shocks and plenty of angst.