In Zell’s (Urban Limit, 2016, etc.) somewhat nostalgic horror novel, a young boy is far more than he seems.
This tale begins innocuously enough, in the mid-1960s, with single mother Brit Helm moving from Phoenix to the suburban town of LaVista in Southern California. She’s doing her best to be both parent and friend to her 12-year-old son, Michael, but they’re still grieving the loss of Michael’s older brother, Nicky, and their new home, choked in dust and mildew, is a far cry from their previous one, with its swimming pool and mountain view. Michael is also now the new kid in LaVista, facing the usual social minefield, which includes a pretty surfer girl named Sandy Randall. Brit has her hands full, too, as she tries to settle in, find a good job, and keep a watchful eye on Michael. Subtly and gradually, Zell makes readers aware of the fact that Brit’s worries about her son extend beyond mere protectiveness: “From the moment they’d placed Michael in her arms, she knew this one is different.” In carefully doled-out increments, we begin to learn the nature and extent of that difference, interwoven with the stuff of ordinary childhood as Michael experiences a crush, obsesses over movie monsters, and keeps an eye out for potential bullies. This is classic Stephen King territory—indeed, this book will certainly appeal to King fans—and Zell knows his way around it, gradually darkening the tones of his plot as it progresses toward a climax that effectively blends psychological and supernatural elements. The book is also saturated with the music of its 1960s period. Brand names are highlighted with a touch too much regularity—the kids ride Schwinn bicycles, of course; Michael sets his record player on a stacked set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and so on. That said, Zell’s enthusiasm for his material wins out over mere box-checking.
A smart, smoothly written horror tale in the King vein.